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5 October 2017

What next for Palestinian reconciliation effort?

By: Daoud Kuttab
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After many failed efforts and dashed expectations, many were cautiously optimistic about the chances of the current Palestinian reconciliation effort to succeed. But by all accounts, it has already accomplished more than previous arrangements and it is clearly set to end forever the deepest rift that the modern Palestinian movement has ever experienced.
 
As of this writing, there are no longer two governments, two laws and two systems of collecting customs, taxes and a variety of other fees.
 
But now the hard part begins. The most difficult issues remaining are the instalment of the Palestinian presidential guards in Rafah, in the south, and in Beit Hanoun, in the north.
 
Once installed, this should at a minimum reopen the Rafah crossing point with Egypt, which would be of great relief to many Palestinians trapped in Gaza for a long time.
 
The Egyptians will be present and monitoring the true implementation of the agreement to transfer power at the crossing point.
 
A much more difficult, near impossible actually, solution would be the return of the Palestinian national guard loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas to Gaza in full force.
 
At one time in the future, if things do not go well, many fear that Hamas will use its overwhelming military power to get what it wants.
 
Another thorny issue will be the status of some 45,000 public service employees hired by Hamas without the approval of the Ramallah government.
 
Abbas and his government feel no obligation to pay the salaries of employees they did not hire, but the agreement calls for a vetting of the employees and attempting to absorb as many as possible in the already bloated Palestinian public service.
 
The electricity problem will be solved now that the Hamdallah government will be responsible and have access to all the individual and company electricity bills that Gazans have been paying to Hamas, and which Hamas was not using to buy the needed fuel to keep the generators going.
 
Abbas said that the issue will be resolved once the takeover in the government and the border crossing is complete. Having been burnt a few times by unfulfilled agreements, Abbas is not taking chances this time.
 
Naturally, many of these problems could conceivably be resolved once parliamentary and presidential elections take place.
 
Polls have consistently shown that Palestinians would vote for Fateh candidates for parliament, but it is still unclear who will be running on their behalf in the presidential race, since Abbas has consistently ruled out that he would run.
 
The Palestinian parliamentary elections would fulfil the last pending problem between the two sides, regarding Hamas’ joining a reformed PLO.
 
The Palestine National Council (PNC), which is the PLO’s highest body, consists of representatives of all Palestinian communities around the world.
 
From the West Bank and Gaza, the elected members of the Palestinian Legislative Council (created by the Oslo Accords) are automatically members of this important body. Hamas, however, has asked that a quota system of kinds by instituted for all other communities and thematic groups that make up the rest of the PNC’s over 700 members.
 
Agreement on this issue, the convening of the PNC and the new PLO strategy for liberation and new leadership will seal the current reconciliation talks.
 
On paper, it should not be hard to reach political consensus within a reformed PLO.
 
At present, the stated political position of both Hamas and Fateh are not that far apart. Both accept the two-state solution within the 1967 border and both agree to the use of popular non-violent means to achieve that.
 
While Hamas has a large arsenal of rockets, it claims that it will only use this in self-defence and not as part of an offensive action.
 
Of course, the biggest problem in efforts to reconcile has always been Israel and the US. Many said that in the past Israel and the US vetoed reconciliation; if that was true, there is no sign of any American veto this time.
 
In an unusual move, the US and the international Quartet (made up of the US, UN, Russia and the EU) have come out quickly and loudly in support of the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank.
 
Their public statements helped keep Israeli officials quiet for at least the first two days of the reconciliation process. However, the Israeli prime minister’s call for the new unity government to recognise Israel and its Jewishness spells trouble, although it seems that the reconciliation process with Egyptian support and the backing of the international community will be stronger than any Israeli attempts to ruin the reunification elation that the Palestinians, especially the Gazans, are feeling now.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net



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