Soon after the latest Israeli offensive on Gaza was over, there were positive indicators for finally achieving national Palestinian reconciliation. As expected, however, the optimism was short lived as differences have again began to resurface between the two rivals, Fatah and Hamas.
The optimism was an inevitable result following the two parties’ cooperation in the field to resist Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza. Both factions showed readiness to return to the negotiation table.
The first positives signs of reconciliation began to appear after the Hamas authorities in Gaza released several Fatah political prisoners, with the gesture reciprocated by Fatah in the West Bank. Fatah also allowed Hamas supporters in the West Bank to commemorate their faction’s anniversary for the first time in six years earlier this month.
But movement towards reconciliation appears to have stalled, as evident by Hamas’ refusal to permit Fatah from celebrating its 74th anniversary next month in Al-Kateeba Square, where Hamas held its own 25th anniversary celebrations a few weeks ago.
Faisal Abu Shahla, a Fatah lawmaker in Gaza, said his faction was intent on reaching an agreement with Hamas, which was proven when it allowed the Islamists to commemorate its anniversary in the West Bank without any limits.
“Hamas said we have to choose an enclosed place for our anniversary, while we gave them whatever place they asked for their celebrations in West Bank cities,” he noted. “This is so disappointing.”
Hamas, which routed Fatah forces to seize control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, has its own concerns for limiting its rival’s activity in Gaza. The secular Fatah was expected to have a large ceremony in Hamas’ territory, testing Fatah’s popularity in Gaza for the first time in six years.
Mukhaymar Abu Sa’ada, a political analyst and lecturer at Al-Azhar University, said that Hamas’ reluctance to give Fatah an open place for its ceremony in Gaza is “understood.”
“It’s expected that after six years of being banned, Fatah supporters will rush out into the streets which will put Hamas popularity in Gaza, once represented as the greatest, in an awkward situation,” he explained.
In response, Hamas official Taher Al-Nono sought to play down the rift, telling Al-Monitor that it was his pleasure to see Fatah strong and united. “We feel so sorry that Fatah is connecting the reconciliation to such an unimportant detail.”
“The agreement between us and our brothers in Fatah has nothing to do with a celebration. It’s the public good that we are seeking,” he said.
Abu Sa’ada also offered security reasons for Hamas’ move, citing internal splits within Fatah that could lead to chaos in an open square. Divisions within Fatah have inflamed in recent times, due to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ decision to oust Fatah strongman Mohammad Dahlan from the PLO in July 2011.
“Hamas claims that the security reason is the only reason [for preventing the Fatah ceremony in an open square]. They say that they fear internal clashes among Fatah supporters or something similar to the Arafat clashes in 2007,” Abu Sa’ada said, referring to the deadly fight that took place between Fatah supporters and Hamas policemen on the anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death in Gaza, which also took place at Al-Kateeba Square.
Abu Shahla criticized Hamas’ security concern as “total nonsense.”
“It’s our decision and it’s us who can manage it. The rest of the security issue is Hamas’ responsibility as a government of Gaza,” he said.
Ehab Al-Ghussen, spokesperson for the Hamas-run Gaza government, said on his Facebook page last week that Abbas was responsible for suspending reconciliations talks, as he received promises from Israel for a return to peace talks after Israel’s elections in January.
“If Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) succeeds in going back to negotiations with Israel then he will abandon the reconciliation talks. If not, he’ll get back to it as a plan B,” he said.
Another Fatah MP in Gaza, Muhamad Hijazy, immediately dismissed Al-Ghussen’s remarks, stressing national reconciliation as one of Abu Mazen’s first priorities.
“There’s no way that Abu Mazen will make a bet on the national Palestinian reconciliation with any external party. And he told Khaled Meshaal earlier that he’s seriously interested in reaching an agreement with Hamas,” Hijazy said.
What the two Palestinian factions experienced was not a reconciliation of sorts, but a softening of tension, according to Abu Sa’ada. “You are talking about real differences of ideologies and agendas, and not a slight difference that can be easily solved,” he said.
One major point of difference is the question of Palestine’s borders, as well as their approaches to Israel.
“Fatah believes in a state on the 1967 borders and adopts negations with Israel to achieve it, while Hamas believes in a Palestinian state on the historical land of Palestine from Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea and adopts armed resistance to reach it,” he explained.
Continued polarization on the political level has resulted in greater apathy and disenchantment among many ordinary Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, who are pessimistic about a reconciliation deal.
Amjad, a 40-year-old petrol station employee in Gaza, said he no longer trusts either of the two parties, and has little confidence in their ability to reach a serious agreement.
“Previous experiences taught me not to believe them again. Both don’t want to reconcile, despite the positive atmosphere the Israeli offensive on Gaza has left,” he said.
The two factions have indeed been talking unity for months, from Mecca to Egypt and finally in Qatar, but no change has been effected in the Occupied Territories. No coalition government was formed, and talk of elections has yet to lift off the ground.
Already burdened with Israel’s occupation, continued infighting between Hamas and Fatah is only adding further strain on the lives of ordinary Palestinians, as Amjad illustrated. “The reconciliation is all what we need. It will result in us living soundly, with better careers and lives.”
Abeer Ayyoub graduated form the Islamic University of Gaza with a BA in English literature. She is a former human rights researcher turned journalist whose work has appeared in Al Masry Al-Youm, The Daily Mirror, and Haaretz.