Palestinian Unity A Little Bit Closer?

For the first time since 2015, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah is planning to visit Gaza for reconciliation talks with Hamas. This comes after Hamas finally agreed to take a step toward resolving a ten year territorial and political split with their rival, the Fatah party, on Sunday.

In a statement issued on Sunday, Hamas confirmed that it has agreed to the demands made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party. In accordance with these demands, the organization consequently dissolved the Gaza administrative committee, a body viewed as a rival government. The statement goes on to “invite the consensus government to come to Gaza to practice its mission,” and that “it accepts holding general elections.” This would allow an Abbas-led “unity government,” formed in 2014 but unable to start operating until now, to finally assume responsibility in the Gaza strip until elections can be held.

Abbas’ internationally recognised Palestinian Authority (PA) is located in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. However, it has had no control in Gaza since 2007, when Hamas seized the territory and removed all Fatah officials following his win in the 2006 parliamentary elections. Since then, the Palestinian leadership has been divided between two rival governments, with Hamas controlling Gaza and Abbas in charge of autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Furthermore, there have not been any general elections held since 2006, and so the citizens have essentially been denied a say in who governs them. All previous attempts at reconciliation and the implementation of a unity government have fallen apart, with the two sides having continuously exchanged blame. As a result, Hamdallah has not visited the Gaza strip since the last attempt at negotiation in 2015.

Hamas has been weakened by an Israeli and Egyptian blockade, three wars with Israel, and international isolation. Abbas, in an attempt to force Hamas to cede, further upped the pressure in recent months by reducing the power supply to the Gaza Strip, with the two million residents receiving only three to four hours of electricity per day as a result. In addition, employees living in Gaza have had their salaries reduced, and the number of Gazans receiving PA permits to travel for medical care has also declined.  This pressure from Abbas only increased the already dire political and economic conditions in the Strip, which may be why Hamas has finally agreed to step towards reconciliation. By doing so, hopefully, the situation of two million Gazans, many being common citizens caught in the middle of this political split, will finally improve.

Nabil Shaath, a senior adviser to President Abbas, told journalists in the West Bank city of Ramallah that Fatah was “very optimistic” and “ready.” Hamdallah would meet Hamas officials in the strip and assert the government’s control over ministries as a first step towards implementing a larger agreement. He goes on to say that “Once the consensus government … starts ruling Gaza and the West Bank, starts developing economically, and starts solving the economic problems of the Gazans,” they will then be ready for “the second step, which is elections.”

Hamas’ decision comes after separate talks between Egyptian officials and the Hamas and Fatah delegations in Cairo. Egypt has been negotiating talks between the two factions to implement a deal signed in 2011, in which Hamas agreed to end their dispute and form an interim government before elections. However, both sides ultimately backed down from the deal at the prospect of giving up power in their respective territories. Egypt’s role in this conflict should be noted though, as Hamas said it was “responding” to not only their own “desire to achieve national unity,” but also “to the generous Egyptian efforts, which reflect the Egyptian desire to end the split and achieve reconciliation.”

Hopefully, the meeting between Hamdallah and Hamas will end with an agreement, rather than both sides exchanging blame and backing out of deals like in the past. If all goes well, Hamas will implement the vows it made when agreeing to Fatah’s demands, and the political and territorial split will finally come to an end. With this, the common citizens of Gaza would finally be able to unite with other Palestinians and have a say in their government, while also being released from some of the pressures that have been imposed on the strip this entire time. After a long while, Palestinian unity finally looks a little bit closer.