Finally, An End To The Palestinian Rift?

Since the administrative rift of 2007, when Palestine was divided into the Hamas-controlled Gaza and Fatah’s West Bank, various attempts at governmental reconciliation have failed. One such attempt in 2014 under a ‘Unity Government’, a merger of the opposing political factions, created an institution considered to be greatly in favour of Fatah. As a result, Hamas reconvened its control of the Gaza Strip in October 2016, in opposition to President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO).

However, on Monday the Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah attended talks in Gaza with Hamas as part of the newest efforts to reconcile the parties. This engagement follows Hamas’ recent commitment to disband its administrative committee who oversees the Gaza Strip, in preparation for the first general election in over a decade. It is considered to be a vital move in bringing aid to the area, which has been described by the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, as undergoing “one of the most dramatic humanitarian crises.”

This crisis has largely been attributed to the Gaza Strip blockade, enforced by Egypt and Israel since 2007. Criticism has arisen toward the blockade, with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) arguing that it represents a collective punishment of the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip and is thus unlawful. Gaza is currently in a period of economic chaos, with 41 percent unemployment, the majority living below the poverty line, and the materials required for rebuilding unavailable. Amnesty International reports that materials such as cement, steel, and glass, crucial to rebuilding the Strip torn apart by Israeli airstrikes, have highly restricted entry into Gaza. President Abbas’ governance has previously expressed its support for the blockade and Egypt’s efforts to block the smuggling routes into Gaza.

The difficulty in reconciling the conflict between Hamas and the PLO following the ceding of authority over Gaza comes through the classification of Hamas on the international stage. The European Union, the U.S., and Israel classify the organization as a terrorist group, further complicating the possibility of reconciliation.

Following the 2006 elections in which Hamas won political capital in Gaza, they led a bloody assault on the region, removing Fatah officials in the Battle of Gaza. The party’s security force, and their capability to enact military dominance in the Strip, does not fade with their administrative committee’s disbandment. The most recent unity government of 2014 failed due to the government’s inaction in reopening border crossings, reconstructing infrastructure, and continued issues such as not paying PA salaries. A Hamas expert, Tareq Baconi, notes that the issues surrounding reconciliation are the same today as they were in 2014, which is clearly a pessimistic roadsign. Key external factors such as Israel’s refusal to allow a geographical unification of Palestine, also stand in the way of a peaceful settlement. Notably, President Abbas’ mandate lasted until 2009, and thus, officially should no longer hold weighting, despite the international community’s insistence on recognising the PLO’s administration. A proper democratic election could be the remedy, a fair commitment to popular support; however, many Gazans worry these discussions are a barter. Abdulsattar Qassem argues that Hamas and Fatah are bargaining for the wants of their respective supporters and that the negotiations will fail to achieve a truly unified government as neither party is willing to properly cede their power. It is greatly uncertain as to how these talks shall end, and if a general election is on the horizon, but it would be the only avenue toward a unified Palestine, should the two parties allow.