Joint resistance strategy
Finally, the leaders of Hamas and Fatah appear to be reading from the same page, writes Saleh Al-Naami
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Meshaal (l) and Abbas (c) during their meeting in Cairo
Hassan Ouda, 21, was unable to call his mother on his cell phone because of the heated debate between his colleagues on the bus on their way to university Saturday morning. They were discussing statements by Ezzat Al-Reshq, member of Hamas's politburo, after a meeting between the group's chief Khaled Meshaal and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo. It was the first time that Hamas declared its support for "peaceful resistance" against the Israeli occupation. The students were divided over Al-Reshq's declaration which marked a clear shift in the group's position that had previously insisted on armed resistance as the only means to liberate Palestine.
It was clear that the majority of students supported the statement. Indeed, agreement between Meshaal and Abbas to focus on peaceful resistance or "popular resistance" is the most significant understanding that Fatah and Hamas have reached since a rift opened between them after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. Publicising this agreement confirms what Al-Ahram Weekly reported last week that the meeting between Meshaal and Abbas would essentially focus on reaching consensus on a joint political agenda in the coming phase.
Hence, although Meshaal's meeting did not result in an announcement about the identity of the candidate who will form the next government, agreement on prioritising peaceful resistance in the coming phase demonstrates flexibility in Hamas's position. At the same time, Fatah's admission that negotiating with Israel is no longer viable and that the next phase requires that the reconciliation agreement is implemented to augment the ability of Palestinians to isolate Israel on the international stage indicates that the leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA) have finally realised the futility of negotiations and settlement.
Iyad Al-Siraj, member of the National Dialogue and Conciliation Committee, endorsed Hamas's declaration of support for peaceful resistance saying that it demonstrates "maturity, perception and a high degree of responsibility and political understanding." Al-Siraj added that Meshaal has adopted a moderate and responsible posture close to the position of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan and the leader of Tunisia's Al-Nahda Movement Rached Al-Ghanoushi.
"Agreeing on a cabinet has become a minor detail if we look at the bigger picture that shows consensus between Fatah and Hamas on a political and strategic partnership of resistance that will contribute to isolating Israel and embarrassing it about its adamant rejection of peace," he stated.
Al-Siraj said that Abbas and Meshaal talked "rationally about the truce, the 1967 border and peaceful resistance, which infuriated Israel because any Palestinian accord would uncover Israel's games and undermine Netanyahu's claims that the Palestinians do not want peace and that Israel is the perpetual victim of Palestinian violence." He added: "All this requires a united leadership and goes hand-in-hand with a long-term plan to close the gap in Palestinian society and focus on building a human being and system that respects freedoms and the law."
Al-Siraj noted that any Palestinians who launch missiles at Israel in the coming phase would be helping Israel demonise the Palestinians in front of world public opinion.
As for forming the next government, it appears that the matter will be decided during meetings between representatives of Palestinian factions in Cairo in the second half of December. Salah Al-Bardawil, a leading Hamas figure, said that the issue was not discussed during the reconciliation meeting between Abbas and Meshaal on 24 November in Cairo. Al-Bardawil added that there is agreement between Fatah and Hamas to postpone discussions of this issue until the expanded meeting of factions on the matter.
"It will be a huge accomplishment if during the next meeting there is consensus on the composition of the government with the participation of all factions," he told the Weekly. Al-Bardawil added: "If they cannot agree on the cabinet, the issue will be postponed until after legislative and presidential elections are held. Fatah and Hamas representatives agree on the need to include all Palestinian factions in forming the government and expressing their views now. We want everyone to be partners in shouldering the responsibility of the coming phase."
Sources told the Weekly that there is a secret agreement between Fatah and Hamas to postpone discussions of forming the next government until after legislative elections are held in May 2012. According to informed Palestinian sources, Abbas told Meshaal that he would not be able to fire Fayyad right now out of concern that the US and EU would suspend assistance to the PA. The source continued that Abbas explained to Meshaal that Fayyad would in all cases be forced to resign after the coming elections.
But Salam Fayyad, who is mindful of the accord between Abbas and Meshaal, is once again trying to use funds to pressure Abbas not to let him go. Fayyad asserts that the PA will not be able to pay civil servant salaries if Israel continues to withhold tax revenues that it collects on behalf of the PA. Israel stopped handing over tax money after UNESCO's decision to accept Palestine as a member in the international organisation. At the same time, Netanyahu said that reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas means that taxes will be permanently withheld.
"We will not be able to pay salaries without tax transfers from Israel," Fayyad told reporters. "It's not just a matter of salaries only, but also the PA's ability to meet its other obligations including paying PA debts to the private sector."
The leaders of Fatah see through Fayyad's ruse and do not believe him. "Threats by Israel and the US do not scare us, and will not make us concede our position and principles," countered Faisal Abu Shahla, member of the parliamentary oversight committee and a leading figure in Fatah. "Conciliation is an integral part of Palestinian principles; we will not trade our principles and national partnership with all factions in return for money and US support."
Abu Shahla added that the meeting between Abbas and Meshaal "left a good impression, unlike previous meetings". He expected that grassroots activities will return for both groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, since it is a dire necessity. He asserted that popular events for either Fatah in Gaza or Hamas in the West Bank should not be hindered. Abu Shahla continued that reality dictates an end to political detentions and other manifestations of division that occurred since the events of July 2007.
Kayd Al-Ghoul, member of the politburo of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), said that Palestinian factions will discuss two pertinent issues in Cairo: national Palestinian partnership among all factions, and consensus on a comprehensive national strategy in the coming phase. Al-Ghoul underscored the importance of Palestinian factions participating in discussions on the apparatus of implementing the reconciliation agreement on the ground, although the nature of this apparatus is unclear. He asserted that the national strategy must be a frame of reference for any diplomatic action on the regional or world stage, and in confronting the occupation.
Meshaal said he was optimistic about his meeting with Abbas in Cairo. He told Al-Rai newspaper, which is affiliated with the Gaza government, that his group will do its best to implement the agreement on the ground and hoped that the political environment will be conducive to this. He added that Fatah and Hamas are both sincere and have good intentions, especially that this spirit was prevalent during the meeting with Abbas.
Meshaal continued that both groups are serious about ending divisions and accomplishing Palestinian reconciliation. "Palestinian rhetoric is united and complementary," he said. "Hamas is calling for unity and closing ranks." He added that reconciliation within society and among clans must be achieved in order to heal the wounds of the previous phase.
The flexibility of Fatah and Hamas has shown that the crisis of choices that faced the two groups caused the leaders in both camps to drastically revise their domestic political agendas and positions, and this augmented the chances of ending internal division. The most conspicuous proof of this flexibility is closer understanding between the two groups regarding a joint political and strategic agenda.