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No internal matter

No internal matter

Inter-Palestinian reconciliation might be possible were it not for the meddling of foreign powers, writes Saleh Al-Naami




Unlike what drivers are used to on Saturdays and Tuesdays, traffic these days is flowing smoothly on Salaheddin Street (the location of a used car market) south of Al-Zaitoun district in southern Gaza City. In the past, used cars on sale on these two days blocked this busy street that connects the northern part of the Gaza Strip with the south. Today, only a handful of cars are being traded since most people can no longer afford to buy used cars at extravagant prices as a result of the siege, especially after Israel announced that it would lift the blockade.


Despite the decision by Israel, bickering between the governments in Ramallah and Gaza has prevented the entry of cars to the market. Ramallah insists that cars can only be allowed in through cooperation between the Ministry of Transportation in Ramallah and car dealers in the Gaza Strip, without any interference by the government of Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza. In response, the government in Gaza stated that it is not interested in taxes, but it cannot be taken out of the equation. It suggested that a joint committee of both governments be formed to coordinate the passage of cars.


In this manner, internal divisions represent an additional burden on Palestinians in Gaza, and which compound the effects of the siege on their daily lives. Although Egypt has reopened the border crossing at Rafah for those living abroad, the sick and students, most Palestinians cannot take advantage of the decision because they are unable to renew their passports. Ramallah refuses to renew the passports of many living in Gaza under the pretext that they are either members of Hamas or that they work in institutions affiliated to Haniyeh's government.


Despite intermittent media reports about breakthroughs in efforts to end internal divisions, reality indicates the opposite -- regardless the involvement of several parties in mediating between Fatah and Hamas. Sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that the Turkish government recently attempted to bridge the gap between the two groups. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sent a message to Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas suggesting that a meeting should take place between Abbas and the chief of Hamas's politburo, Khaled Meshaal, in the hope that this would bring them closer on the Egyptian proposal. According to Palestinian sources, Davutoglu said the meeting could be sponsored by Ankara and with the knowledge of Cairo. But Abbas turned down the idea, insisting that Hamas must first agree to the Egyptian plan without conditions. The source continued that Abbas consulted with his advisers on the Turkish suggestion, and they all rejected it outright.


Such developments prove that the one- on-one meetings that have taken place between the leaderships of both groups have not been able to achieve much. This includes the recent meeting between Azzam Al-Ahmed, member of Fatah's Central Committee and head of its parliamentary bloc, and Osama Hamdan, Hamas's foreign relations chief and representative in Lebanon, after which Fatah was keen on giving the impression that the group had changed its stance. At the same time, efforts by the Egyptian government as well as what is loosely known as the Committee of Independent Figures, headed by Palestinian businessman Moneeb Al-Masri, have resulted in little change. Shuttle visits by mediators between Cairo, Damascus, Ramallah and Gaza have all failed to secure a consensus approach to the Egyptian proposal.


Al-Masri, however, refuses to give up, asserting that an independent group is currently working on several ideas to address the concerns of the Palestinian factions on the Egyptian scheme, which would become a Palestinian code of honour and basis for fruitful inter-Palestinian relations. Al-Masri noted that his team is working carefully to "remove any doubts Hamas has" and "on reassuring the group's leaders that their concerns will be taken into consideration without making any changes to the Egyptian plan or adding an addendum."


Al-Masri urged Hamas and Fatah to work on "saving the Palestinian national project which is currently under attack by Israel to undermine Palestinian presence in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank. Our national project will fail and we will lose everything without reconciliation." But Al-Masri appears unaware that Abbas is under pressure from the US not to reconcile with Hamas, which makes Hamas suspicious of Al-Masri's neutrality in the process.


"If Azzam Al-Ahmed, a Fatah leader, insists that there is a US-Israel veto on achieving reconciliation with Hamas, is it possible Moneeb Al-Masri does not realise this?" a senior Hamas source told the Weekly. "All those supposedly independent figures who are volunteering to defend Abbas are undermining their credibility and making us suspicious."


Indeed, any outside observer can see Israel is undermining reconciliation prospects. Recently, and publicly, the security apparatus of Salam Fayyad's government hosted Shin Bet Director Yofal Diskin, who is directly responsible for operations to suppress the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, for an entire day in Jenin. Israeli media coverage claimed that Palestinian officials wanted to show Diskin the measures taken against resistance activities in the West Bank. The level of cooperation on security issues between the PA and Tel Aviv has lately intensified in an unprecedented manner. So much so that the spokesmen for the Israeli government and the US administration continuously praise Fayyad's government for its efforts to end resistance activities in the West Bank. Abbas's security apparatus has even invited the head of Israeli Central Command, Avi Mizrahi, to attend a military parade for Force 17, the Palestinian Presidential Guard.


Meanwhile, Israel is praising Fayyad's government for foiling a number of operations against occupation forces. The Israeli Army said it would not have been able to arrest a single member of the Hamas cell that attacked an Israeli police patrol in Hebron, killing one policeman and injuring several others, a month ago without help from the PA's security apparatus.


Many Palestinian observers believe that Israel knows that its security interests will be gravely jeopardised if national reconciliation is achieved. "It is clear that reconciliation means the formation of a unity government, reconfiguring the security apparatus and choosing different goals," Nehad Sheikh, political analyst, told the Weekly. "No doubt, it would not be able to cooperate with Israel to this extent."


The PA is concerned that if it reconciles with Hamas, Israel will become hostile towards it -- similar to what happened during Operation Defensive Wall in April 2002, when Israeli troops raided West Bank towns and the PA was unable to function. "There is also a clear connection between the interests of the leaders of the Palestinian security apparatus and the Israeli officials they cooperate with, as well as the US officials who supervise the cooperation process, and security coordination between Fayyad's government and Tel Aviv," Sheikh added.


All told, present conditions foretell more hardship for the Palestinian people under siege, compounded by internal divisions among their leaders. Palestinian lives are paralysed and their hopes for a better tomorrow shattered while reconciliation appears held hostage to the whims of foreign forces

The link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2010/1009/re2.htm.

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