Commentary

Amid Chaos, Palestinians Call for Unity

Middle East In Focus

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Following the widespread protests in the Middle East, Palestinian youth took to the streets last week calling for a unity government. The public display of discontent has caught the leaders of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority by surprise, and has even solicited a reaction from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Many, however, are still skeptical on whether the protests will convince the Palestinian leaders to settle their differences anytime soon.

Reflecting on the events of the past two weeks, Daoud Kuttab writes on Arabic Media Internet Network, “March 15 marked the launch of yet another Arab youth movement, following those in Egypt on January 25 and in Libya on February 17. The aim of this youth-led movement appears simple: end the split between Gaza and the West Bank and between the PLO and Hamas....The attempts by Palestinians to cause a dent in the internal stalemate have yet to produce a serious breakthrough. It will be interesting to see how long the youth, especially in Gaza, can hold on, and whether their efforts will force political leaders to effect changes they have so far avoided making.”

“For those young Palestinians who endured beatings in Gaza and those who were on hunger strike at Ramallah’s Manara Square, the news of a possible reconciliation is a burst of fresh air,” writes Joharah Baker in the Lebanese Daily Star. Tempering his enthusiasm somewhat, he continues: “It is too early to predict just how sincere the parties are, but not too early to appreciate the movement of the masses. Palestinians have made mistakes, they have followed their political affiliations blindly at times, but the bottom line is that they all want their leaders united.”

In Gaza, the demonstrators are at times met with a show of force from Hamas. According to a report from Sami Abu Salem, published by JMCC: “Protesters in Gaza calling for an end to political division say they are committed to continuing their demonstrations, despite a heavy-handed crackdown by Hamas forces....On Sunday, tens of young Palestinians held rallies on the grounds of al-Azhar University, too worried about the police response to carry their protest outside the institute of higher learning. Human rights workers said that six activists were detained in a demonstration on Monday at the Red Cross compound. ‘We will not surrender,’ said activist Ahmed Arar. ‘It is obvious that both factions do not care about ending division, so it is our duty to do so, and we can.’”

The message seems to have been partly received by the Fatah and Hamas leaders. In an interview, former Fatah official Mohammad Shteyyeh responded to a journalist’s query on whether the intra-Palestinian reconciliation was a priority by affirming, “It is, and we are working to have that. We lost the elections because of Israel. They destroyed the peace process and Hamas won because people cast a protest vote to punish Fatah for this. Reconciliation with Hamas means that we must go to elections, then sit down and work on a political agreement.”

The signals coming from Hamas are also encouraging. In a report by Palestine Information Center, “Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haneyya [is said to have] reiterated calls to the country's de facto president Mahmoud Abbas to come to the Gaza Strip to begin reconciliation talks tackling all national issues. The calls were in response to demonstrations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank demanding an end to the Palestinian political split.”

For his part, the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, “renewed his pledge to go to Gaza in a push for reconciliation with Hamas, saying Tuesday that the Gaza-Ramallah road remained the shortest route to unity between Fatah and Hamas.” The Maan News article also cites President Abbas: “Addressing comments from Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who said earlier in the week that Abbas could choose between ‘peace with Israel or Hamas’…said ‘Israel has no right to object to Palestinian conciliation, it has no stake in Palestinian national unity. Netanyahu has always wept in front of the Americans, saying the Palestinians are divided and he can't negotiate with them like this,’ adding that unity would make the prospect of a Palestinian state stronger.”

The comments made by the Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu cited by President Abbas, were reported on Haartez News, according to which, “Netanyahu, stated that the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas must choose between peace with Israel and peace with the rival Hamas movement....The Israeli Prime Minister, also claimed that the Palestinians are not willing or interested in reaching a comprehensive peace agreement with Tel Aviv.”

Similar sentiments were also expressed by a Jerusalem Post editorial, which asserted: “The PA has pragmatic reasons for desiring reconciliation with Hamas, which Abbas is courting without demanding that it revamp any of its “principles.” Grassroots pressure in both Gaza and the West Bank has been growing for the two Palestinian leaderships to put aside their differences....But Palestinian unity involving an unreformed Hamas would have supremely negative ramifications for the prospects of a two-state solution. No Israeli government could contemplate entering into negotiations with a Palestinian government coalition that includes Hamas.”

Given the skepticism surrounding the most recent unification efforts, the escalation of the conflict between Hamas and Israel was perhaps unfortunate, as Fadi Abu Sada opines on AMIN, “The recent armed escalation by the Palestinian resistance to the increased Israeli military action against Gaza doesn’t serve us at all. In fact, it works against us, because this escalation restricts the youth movement in Gaza from ending the division and also postpones the presidential visit to Gaza, a key requirement for reconciliation; a requirement to end this fraternal conflict that makes us look petty to our Arab brothers, our friends abroad, and ourselves.”

 


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.