A joint press conference held on Thursday by Hamas and Fatah leaders is an attempt by the two rival Palestinian factions to make a show of unity – not only against annexation, but also before the Palestinian people.
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Jibril Rajoub, Fatah Central Committee’s secretary general, and Salah al-Aruri, head of the Hamas political bureau, may have used slightly different terminology in their remarks, but their message was similar: Annexation for them would eliminate any diplomatic option for an agreement with Israel.
Their statements regarding future cooperation and a united front sounded credible, but they didn’t particularly sway Palestinian public opinion.
During the 13 years of the rupture between Hamas and Fatah, Palestinians have heard hundreds of declarations by leaders of both sides about the end of the split and agreements at all levels. They have had their heads filled with declarations and bombastic announcements, sometimes even backed by good intentions, but no results have been seen.
Indeed, there have been many agreements that could have served as a good foundation for cooperation, had there been a true willingness to move forward. Over the past decade, the sides have pledged to establish a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, to wage a nonviolent popular struggle and to integrate Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the Palestinian Liberation Organization. However, when it came to implementing the plans, neither side was ready to yield its share of power.
The conflict has violently manifested itself in attacks by the Palestinian Authority on Hamas in the West Bank and vice versa in Gaza. Moreover, both parties’ financial dependence on other countries and the complex network of relations they manage regionally – like Hamas’ ties with Iran, Turkey and Qatar on the one hand, and the PA’s tendency to turn to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and European nations on the other – have shrunk the room for maneuvers and increased regional pressures. These have prevented real progress in reconciliation talks. The continued split has served the Israeli interest of maintaining the status quo and keeping the West Bank and Gaza divided.
The Palestinians now face three options. One is to dismantle the PA and for its leaders to go into exile. Most Palestinians oppose this scenario, which also wouldn’t enjoy international support and isn't likely at all to lead to any diplomatic progress or Palestinian unity in the foreseeable future.
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The second option is to return to the second intifada model of armed struggle – or terrorism in Israeli terms – including attacks deep inside Israel. Such a step would provoke a major military operation, bloodletting and destruction of Palestinian infrastructure. This option has proved ineffective and failed to achieve any diplomatic goals in the past. It would also give Israel the moral high ground as the side defending its civilians and would strengthen the right-wing claims that there is no one to talk to.
The third scenario is to exploit the atmosphere and the declarations to put the Palestinian house in order – hold elections, including for the president, parliament and PLO institutions, and to truly end the split by setting a unified strategy based on a nonviolent popular struggle, which each side can live with.
Plans for renewed nonviolent activity with the goal of establishing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, on the basis of the 2002 Arab peace initiative, have existed for years. Such activity would include women and children blocking roads in the West Bank or a peaceful march toward a military base – moves that would win support in the international community and even among many Israeli groups.
However, real success requires some housecleaning first, a strategic decision and an organized plan of action involving all factions. Declarations and good intentions, as witnessed Thursday, won’t suffice.