By Moonis Ahmar
After ten years of hostility and bloodshed, the rival Palestinian groups namely Al-Fatah and Hamas agreed in September to form a national unity government and dissolve administrative committees in Gaza. Since 2007, Gaza was ruled by radical Muslim Palestinian group Hamas and West Bank remained under the control of moderate PLO group Al-Fatah. Earlier, in June 2014, the two Palestinian groups had formed national unity government but it failed to establish working relationship with each other.
The division within the Palestinian community enormously benefited Israel as it was able to use excessive force against the people residing in Gaza couple of years ago when it alleged that Hamas was firing rockets on its territory. Gaza, although vacated by Israel is under siege causing serious problems to local people particularly shortage of food and medicines.
How the process of reconciliation unleashed between Hamas and Al-Fatah may help the Palestinian community in Gaza and West Bank to strengthen their struggle for an independent Palestinian state? How a national unity government in Palestine will impact on Israeli policy of Jewish settlements in the West Bank? Will general elections, which are due in West Bank and Gaza help strengthen the process of national reconciliation in Palestine?
The unfortunate reality in the Middle East is the occupation of Arab areas by Israel since the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Although Sinai desert was returned to Egypt by Israel under the Camp David accord and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty of 1979, Israel has annexed Golan Heights which it captured from Syria and East Jerusalem from Jordan during June 1967 Arab-Israeli war. The Oslo accords of September 1993, which established Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and West Bank, failed because Israel not only settled hundreds of thousands of Jews in the West Bank but also shifted its capital from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The vision to establish a Palestinian state along with Israel outlined in the UN partition plan of Palestine in 1947 also remained unaccomplished because Israel under the regime of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to accept the demand for an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. As a result, stalemate and standoff in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process resulted into the outbreak of Intifada-II in September 2000 which further caused violence in Gaza and West Bank.
The Israeli state taking advantage of fragmentation within the Arab world and split in the Palestinian community in the form of Hamas and Al-Fatah has deepened its programme to settle hundreds of thousands of Jews in the West Bank
With the rise of radical Islamic group Hamas and its winning of elections in Gaza in 2007, Palestinian infighting reached its peak with Hamas controlling Gaza and the PLO led Al-Fatah by President Mahmoud Abbas controlling the West Bank. Ten years of infighting between Hamas and Al-Fatah not only weakened the Palestinian struggle but also strengthened the hold of Israel. The very struggle to establish an independent Palestinian state reached a stalemate with Israel pursuing an inflexible and intransigent approach on the demands of PLO like the formation of an independent Palestinian homeland and the return of Palestinian refugees who were uprooted since the formation of Israel back to their homes. Palestinians were killing Palestinians which encouraged Israel to launch fierce attack over Gaza in 2015 resulting into hundreds of casualties and displacement of people.
After 10 years of back to back debacles, the Palestinian leadership from Hamas and Al-Fatah agreed to mend fences and establish National Unity Government. Hamas’s readiness to support the holding of general elections in West Bank and Gaza is a reflection of a major reality that its isolation in the region has not helped achieve its objectives as Al-Fatah administration in West Bank is recognised as a legitimate Palestinian authority.
Four major factors will shape things in the Palestinian struggle for an independent state in the days to come. First, the role of Egypt in forging reconciliation between Hamas and Al-Fatah proves Cairo’s clout in shaping things as far as forging peace between rival Palestinian groups is concerned. Currently, Cairo is a host of Fatah, Hamas talks to forge unity among Palestinians. Egypt, as the most populous and powerful frontline state and having borders with Gaza, is certainly in a position to compel Hamas and PLO to strike a deal for a future Palestinian unity government in West Bank and Gaza. Second, options for Palestinians are diminishing with each passing days because since 1948 when Israel came into being and their ordeals began till today, one can see the decline and erosion of the those people who became strangers in their own home because of the occupation of Arab lands by Israel and the exodus of millions of Palestinians to neighbouring countries and outside the region.
Third, till the launching of Oslo peace process between Israel and Palestinians in early 1990s, PLO was demanding the destruction of Israel and the establishment of Palestinian state in Israel. With the defeat of Arab states in June 1967 Arab-Israeli war; stalemate in October 1973 Arab-Israeli war; the civil war in Lebanon and its occupation by Israeli forces in June 1982 leading to the expulsion of PLO’s military contingents to Tunis; the outbreak of Iran-Iraq war and the Iraqi attack and occupation of Kuwait in August 1990; Israel was the sole beneficiary of back to back events to the extent that the PLO deleted from its charter the clause relating to the destruction of Israel and demanded that an independent Palestinian state be established on territories of Gaza and West Bank which were occupied by Israel in June 1967 war. But, infighting between Hamas and PLO’s dominant group Al-Fatah over Gaza and the indifferent attitude of neighbouring Arab states vis-à-vis the plight of Palestinians further weakened the bargaining position of PLO with Israel. Ground realities since the defeat of Arab countries in their war with Israel in June 1967 are such that even the formation of an independent Palestinian state seems to be a remote possibility.
The Israeli state taking advantage of fragmentation within the Arab world and split in the Palestinian community in the form of Hamas and Al-Fatah deepened its program to settle hundreds of thousands of Jews in the West Bank. Consequently, West Bank, which before June 1967 Arab-Israeli war was under the Jordanian control, has lost its demographic edge in favour of Jews. The Palestinian population which had an overwhelming majority in West Bank before June 1967 war has been over shadowed by the Jewish settlements. The shifting of Israel’s capital from Tal Aviv to Jerusalem has further diminished the hope of an independent Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem. Finally, even if reconciliation process in Palestine is unleashed with a national unity government supported by Hamas, it is now very difficult to compel Israel to comply with the UN Security resolutions of 242 and 338 which called for the withdrawal of Israeli forces from the Arab occupied areas. Subsequently, one may not expect tangible positive implications of reconciliation process in Palestine resulting into more disorder and instability in the Middle East in the days to come.