Thursday, 19 September 2019 06:44 GMT

Palestine's elusive reconciliation

(MENAFN - Jordan Times) Of all the options, limited as they are, that are available to President Mahmoud Abbas to offset the repercussions of President Donald Trump's controversial proclamation on Jerusalem and his much touted Middle East peace plan, ending inter-Palestinian schism, is beyond doubt the most relevant and most effective. As much as it is important for him to plead with the international community to stand up against US and Israeli measures that have rolled back dozens of affirmative agreements and contravened reams of UN resolutions on Palestine/Israel, nothing can substitute building a united national front.

Towards that effort, both he and Hamas leadership have failed miserably. Attempts to achieve reconciliation began as soon as Hamas carried out its military takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, which ended with the dissolution of the national unity government. Both sides continue to blame each other for that bloody conflict, which resulted in a de facto division of the Palestinian territories. Agreements reached in Mecca in 2007, Cairo in 2011, Doha in 2012, Gaza in 2014, and most recently in Cairo last October have all failed to end the split and deliver much needed presidential and legislative elections.

Between then and now, the besieged Gaza Strip, one of the most crowded areas on earth with almost 2 million inhabitants living on 365, endured two major Israeli onslaughts and countless other military operations resulting in the death of thousands of civilians, injury of tens of thousands and massive damage to Gaza's infrastructure. The threat of yet another showdown with Israel hangs heavy over Gazans today.

The last legislative election to be held in the West Bank and Gaza was in 2006. Since then, the president and the crippled legislature have overextended their legal terms. Hamas' control of Gaza is undoubtedly illegal and its actions there are extrajudicial. Abbas, 82, has been president since 2005 and is yet to embrace a process for a transition. This political impasse has impeded adoption of Palestinian reconciliation and the full empowerment of the Palestinian Authority (PA) over Gaza.

Overcoming the deadlock is precisely what the Egyptians have been trying to conclude for years. The latest attempt comes at a time when Egypt is trying to quell a stubborn extremist insurgency in northern Sinai. Stabilising the situation in nearby Gaza is vital to ensuring Cairo's success in destroying militant groups on its side of the border.

Abbas and his Fateh movement want to regain full control of Gaza. That means not only taking over the border crossings, Raffah being the most important one, and empowering the government, but also loosening Hamas and Islamic Jihad grip over the strip. This raises the issue of the insurmountable problem of the fate of Hamas' Al Qassam Brigades and its stockpile of rockets. For Hamas and Islamic Jihad, handing over their weapons is not open for negotiations. For Israel, and the US which has put Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on its terror list last month, no reconciliation agreement will be accepted without disarming Palestinian militant groups.

The final say on the future of armed resistance and options to face the fallout from Trump's peace plan and Israel's unilateral actions in the West Bank should revert to the Palestinian people. Gazans are, undoubtedly, fed up with the daily misery resulting from the decade-old economic blockade, which had created a ticking humanitarian time bomb, according to the UN aid agencies. The blame for their mischief is now shared equally between Hamas and Abbas, the latter has slashed the salaries of thousands of PA employees in Gaza and is refusing to pay for fuel needed to keep the strip's only electric station running.

Fateh itself is also under pressure in the West Bank as internal divisions widen and Abbas is challenged by ousted former official Mohammad Dahlan. Internal bickering and Abbas' authoritarian style of governance have weakened Palestinian institutions such the Palestine Central Council, whose resolutions are overruled by the Palestinian leader. The Palestine Liberation Organisation , which is the national umbrella for all Palestinian groups remains sidelined and ineffective as well as the Palestine National Council , the all inclusive Palestinian parliament.

Amid these troubling facts, the prospects for a conclusion of a successful reconciliation deal remain dim. Both Abbas and Hamas need to realise that time is running out and that the current status quo cannot be maintained for long. The Trump peace deal will attempt to weaken the PA further and isolate Hamas and other militant groups. Unless both overcome their differences, a probable scenario of an inescapable and irreversible separation between Gaza Strip and the West Bank will become increasingly realistic. Responsibility for Gaza will revert to Egypt and Palestinian population centres in the West Bank will be linked to Jordan. The rest of the West Bank will be annexed by Israel.

The incontrovertible fact besetting Palestinian unity in the face of an unprecedented onslaught is this, Abbas and Hamas, whose legitimacy must be questioned, are clinging to power no matter the cost. And in this particular case, the cost could be the final dissolution of Palestine's just cause.

The writer is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman


Palestine's elusive reconciliation


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