Opinion

'Reconciliation Is Just a Lie': Skepticism in Gaza at Yet Another Attempt at Palestinian Unity

Ordinary Gazans have paid the price for the brinkmanship between Hamas and Fatah. They don't see that changing

Many Palestinians in Gaza are skeptical, believing what’s going on between Hamas and Fatah is just barter, and that the only beneficiaries from any coming reconciliation will their movements and their followers
Many Palestinians in Gaza are skeptical, believing what’s going on between Hamas and Fatah is just barter, and that the only beneficiaries from any coming reconciliation will their movements and their MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS

GAZA CITY - Like their 21th century peers, Gazans have access to cellphones, YouTube and Facebook. But this is only a façade of access to global interaction: For the last 11 years, Gazans have been living under political siege.

That siege has led to a 46% youth unemployment rate. For graduates of local Palestinian universities the picture is even bleaker: of the 18,000 who graduate annually, the unemployment rate is 64%.

Those young Gazans and the millions of their compatriots have been waiting for more than a decade for a glimmer of hope. Has this faint chance now arrived, with the latest episode of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation story?

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas greets delegates after addressing the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York. September 20, 2017
EDUARDO MUNOZ/REUTERS

Last Sunday, after negotiations with Egypt, Hamas government pledged to dissolve its year-old administrative commission, formed to rule the Strip, and expressed its readiness to hold elections. Hamas used its commission to run the internal affairs of the Strip, after accusing the PA of neglecting Gaza. In return, the Fatah-ruled PA accused Hamas of using this commission as a "shadow government" to deepen the political division between Gaza and the West Bank.

President Mahmoud Abbas had instituted a sequence of punitive measures against Gaza aimed at pressuring Hamas to relinquish control of the Strip, including cutting the salaries of Gaza PA employees and reducing the electricity supply to the Strip. 

Now, Abbas has accepted Hamas’ decision. For the first time in three years, the Palestinian Authority will convene in Gaza on Tuesday as part of a push for reconciliation between the rival Hamas and Fatah factions. 

For Palestinians in Gaza, the main divisions are between the optimists and the sceptics.

The optimists believe that if Palestinian reconciliation works this time, Gaza might still witness its best years. But those hopes are challenged by the sceptics, often those unemployed graduates, youth, heads of families, who recall the long history of previous reconciliation failures, the false dawns of meetings between Hamas and Fatah in Cairo, Moscow, Mecca and Gaza.

They believe that what’s going on between both factions is just barter, and the only ones benefitting from any coming reconciliation will the political movements themselves and their followers.

Yehiye Sinwar, a founder of Hamas' military wing and now prime minister of Gaza, served 25 years in Israeli jail for his role in the abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers in the 1980s. He was freed in the Shalit prisoner swap in 2011.
Hatem Moussa / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Ahmed Abu-Qamsha, 23, a Palestinian graduate from Gaza, believes that the reconciliation is never going to work, "because both parties are happy with what’s going on."

"Any coming reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah would be just a lie, added to the already substantial volume of lies from both parties," Ahmed added. "Hamas wants the reconciliation so its employees can get full salaries from the PA, and Fatah wants the reconciliation to control the Strip again. This Cairo agreement is no different from the previous ones."

The last Palestinian-Palestinian reconciliation agreement was signed by the two parties in the summer of 2014, a month before Israel started its deadly offensive on the enclave. The subsequent war, lasting for 52 days, damaged Gaza's weak infrastructure and killed more than 2,300 Palestinians, the majority of whom were civilians.

Unlike Ahmed, Suraya Mahmoud, 33, a Palestinian mother from Gaza, thinks that this time is different.

"Hamas and Fatah are under international pressure from Egypt, Moscow and some European countries, even from the UN," Suraya said. "So, the reconciliation is really real this time, and we are very hopeful about it."

Nikolay Mladenov, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, speaks during a press conference at the UNESCO headquarters in Gaza City. September 25, 2017
MOHAMMED ABED/AFP

Speaking during a press conference at the UNESCO office in Gaza City, Special UN coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Nikolay Mladenov said that the United Nation is ready to supervise the Palestinian consensus government and its performance in the Gaza Strip.

Many states have exhibited the moral and political responsibility and readiness to support any overall solution in the Gaza Strip in order to end its 11 years of suffering, hopelessness and silence. But it is Hamas and Fatah who will have the final word – it is their actions that will be decisive in terms of what political configuration will emerge.

But for Gazans, the bottom line is not which political party is ascendant. The issue of reconciliation is largely academic. They only want an improvement in living conditions that would allow them to live like humans.

Patients waiting for medications to get into Gaza, students granted scholarships to study outside Gaza waiting for the border crossings to open, the crowds of the unemployed.  As we all used to hear from our grandparents: "A drowning man grasps at straws."

The author's name has been disguised to protect his identity.