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هاني المصري
الخميس, 26 تشرين اﻷول (أكتوبر), 2017

 "Ever since the new round of the inter-Palestinian reconciliation began, some Palestinians and Arabs told a lie and believed it, or fell into a trap, or fell victim to a hoax, forgetting that they were the one who invented it," writes Hani al-Masri on the Palestinian

The content of that lie is that the U.S./Israeli veto on reconciliation has been lifted for a number of reasons, most importantly; in order to pave the way for achieving the 'deal of the century.'

What has helped to spread and circulate this lie, or helped these Palestinians and Arabs fall into the trap, was the fact that Washington and Tel Aviv's rulers remained silent at first. Israel's attitude to the reconciliation was then declared, and it took a harder line than before. Then the U.S. administration essentially adopted this Israeli attitude, with the State Department expressing its surprise at the shock felt by those circulating and spreading the belief that the U.S. veto had been lifted, since the latest American position was just the same as before.

That, in turn, led the Israelis to explain the new veto by reference to Hamas's refusal to discuss the resistance's weapons at the Palestinian dialogue table, and [Hamas Gaza head] Yahiya as-Sinwar's statements that the time is past when Hamas would recognize Israel and about erasing Israel from the map, in addition to the Hamas delegation's recent visit to Iran and its head's statement that it represented the most eloquent response to Israel's preconditions that include the demand that Hamas should sever its relations with Tehran.

But later, when the White House's spokesperson stated that the U.S. believes that Egypt's mediation gives a positive chance to achieving peace, which is why his country will continue to back these efforts, talk of lifting the veto was revived. 

So, what is the truth regarding this claim?

An informed Palestinian source recounts that almost from the very start, and in all their meetings with President Mahmoud 'Abbas and other Palestinian officials, President Donald Trump and his envoys urged the need for the PA to return to the Gaza Strip. This is confirmed by the fact that [U.S. Envoy] Jason Greenblatt's first statement on the reconciliation welcomed the PA's return to Gaza as a means of including it in the effort to improve the economic conditions and isolating Hamas. In fact, if we were review the White House spokesperson's statement, we would note that it stressed that the Trump administration's main aim was to enable the PA to take control of Gaza, even if only partially. He added that although the U.S. still calls for Hamas's disarmament, this is not expected to occur immediately. Some saw this as a change in position; but it is only a change in form since no one would have imagined that the resistance could be disarmed immediately.

Based on the above, there is change in the U.S./Israeli position; but it does not include lifting the veto on reconciliation. After all, the International Quartet's preconditions – hardened by other preconditions – are still imposed on any future Palestinian government, and on Hamas itself, as is consistent with the position announced by the Israeli cabinet. For why should the veto be lifted, when the overall Palestinian and Arab condition is sufficiently tempting to harden that veto and impose new preconditions?

What has changed is that a green light has been given to the PA's return to rule Gaza. The aim is to prevent the Strip from collapsing and exploding – which no one wants – and to benefit from the growing Egyptian/Hamas cooperation against terrorism in Sinai in recent months; as well as to make use of Hamas's hardships and the signals of moderation it has sent. (There are many reasons for its new moderation that will not be addressed here; some have to do with the repercussions of the Gulf crisis, and the fact that Hamas's two allies in Doha and Ankara are preoccupied with it). The hope is that Hamas's hardships would open a window that will lead to accept the conditions that must be satisfied if it is to be brought in from the cold, or that facilitate its containment or its isolation – for that matter.

In addition, certain American political, security, and media circles believe that the fate of this round of reconciliation will fare no better than previous rounds. This is why they have recommended that the Palestinians should be left to foil their latest reconciliation bid with their own hands, without any direct outside intervention. (See in this regard the articles by [former Israeli military intelligence head] Amos Yadlin, and [pro-Israel Washington Institute researcher] David Makovsky). This is why Netanyahu refused to go along his partner in the ruling coalition Naftali Bennett's demand that the PA be punished so as to compel it not to reconcile with Hamas. But at the same time, Netanyahu stressed that he opposes reconciliation, and that he will not negotiate with the PA if Hamas joins the Palestinian government.

In other words, there is no change in the U.S.'s position towards Hamas's participation in government or the PLO if it does not agree to the International Quartet's preconditions.

What all this means is that Washington and Tel Aviv do not want to completely topple Hamas for the time being because the inter-Palestinian split represents an irreplaceable golden opportunity for them, especially after the PA's absence [from Gaza] for more than ten years and with disagreements and clashes within Fatah. For the alternative to Hamas today is anarchy, with extremist and terrorist forces taking control. Moreover, neither the U.S. nor Israel want to wage a new war on the Strip, especially since its outcome cannot be guaranteed at present, and at a time when the priority for both countries has to do with what may happen on the Lebanese/Syrian/Iraqi/Iranian front, that has heated up notably recently. For there is no preference for fighting a war on the Northern and Southern [Gaza] fronts at a time when certain things on the Southern front may be achievable without a war in the immediate future.

What the Trump administration and the Netanyahu government oppose is a partnership between Hamas, Fatah, and the other factions on a patriotic basis. On the other hand, the PA's return to Gaza may be the best available solution. If it succeeds, either by the PA regaining total power or by preserving the dual presence of the PA's weapons alongside those of the resistance, it becomes possible to turn to the issue of disarming the resistance subsequently, as former Israeli defense minister Moshe Arens has suggested. And if the current round of reconciliation were to collapse, then the Palestinians alone would be held responsible.

We have stressed before and we stress again that genuine reconciliation is one that achieves a national partnership and that is not a bridge to resuming negotiations based on Israeli preconditions, or that provides cover for the so-called 'deal of the century.' But this can only be achieved via a comprehensive vision and a national dialogue in which the various shades of the Palestinian spectrum take part, with the aim of determining where the Palestinian people stand today, where they want to go, and how they are to achieve what they want, and which provides the requirements of unity. And the most important of them are the following:

- An agreement on a national program, based on a national [PLO] charter, after reviewing the old charter in light of the expertise acquired and the new realities, but without touching the historical narrative and rights. The new program must be different from the current programs that have led us into a dead-end. It must embody the common denominators in a manner that preserves national rights and interests, and that enables us to act at all Arab, regional, and international levels and forums, and that allows us to avoid international isolation and boycott. This is to be achieved by relying on international legality and UN resolutions, without agreeing to the International Quartet's unjust preconditions.

- Rebuilding the PLO's institutions by convening a unifying national council that includes the various shades of the Palestinian spectrum that believe in partnership on patriotic and democratic foundations based on accord, and on full national partnership.

- Forming a national unity government with the participation of the main political elements, so as to ensure that it would be a strong government that is able to rule and unify the PA's institutions, end the split and its manifestations by reconsidering the PA's situation, and lead the PA from being a self-rule authority to acting as the embryo for an entity that embodies the state, independence, and sovereignty in the service of the national program. This entity should be one of the PLO's tools, taking the special conditions of both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip into consideration, and ensuring that the decision for war-or-peace would be based on national patriotic consensus. Moreover, an agreement must be reached on managing and organizing the resistance's weapons in a shared manner, without relinquishing them before our national rights are achieved. 

After all, Palestine needs resistance more than Lebanon because it is under occupation, and because it cannot be liberated and the basic minimum of Palestinian rights cannot be achieved without changing the balance of power. Furthermore, negotiations should not be resumed unless they satisfy certain requirements that are guaranteed to serve the nation and the cause, rather than being just a new phase on the path towards establishing 'Greater Israel.'

- Referring to the nation by holding elections, which must be one of the tools of the Palestinian people's struggle against occupation. For if elections are held in the absence of unified institutions, and before unity is achieved, they will only be a leap into the unknown, at best.

Without a common national program, a single PLO that represents the Palestinian people wherever they may be, a single PA, and a single leadership, there can be no national unity. What we will have will be a merely formal, tactical reconciliation that will quickly collapse or lead to what is worse – namely, a unification of the forces under the Oslo Accords' ceiling, or some other even lower ceiling.

"But the pressing national interest requires that this ceiling should be completely overcome, gradually, if not at one go", concludes Masri.