Two cheers (but only two) for Palestinian reconciliation


Two cheers (but only two) for Palestinian reconciliation

Gaza is in massive humanitarian crisis — its water undrinkable, its beaches polluted, its economy non-existent. Over 40 percent of its workforce is unemployed. Basic medicines are barely available. Electricity flows for just two hours. It is, according to Save the Children, uninhabitable.
So regardless of whatever progress has been made with the new Fatah-Hamas agreement, for the two million Palestinian inhabitants of Gaza, celebrations are not yet in order. 
The past 10 years have perhaps been the most tough and bitter of Gaza’s post-1948 history. Palestinians have endured three major Israeli assaults, the civil war between Hamas and Fatah in 2007 and the daily war of attrition between occupier and occupied. 
That it has taken so long even to get this far, is a stunning indictment of failure. 
Does this agreement herald a new dawn? Certainly, talking to Palestinians in Gaza, optimism is in greater supply than after the many previous Fatah-Hamas agreements that foundered. Hopes are raised. The danger is that they may be dashed. 
On the plus side, talks have progressed further than before. Palestinians are desperate to see a unity government and the end of the political and geographical divisions that have beset them. Hamas in particular appear keen to change the situation. Regional powers are also clearly supportive. Even the Israeli government permitted the Palestinian Authority leaders access to Gaza, and the fuss kicked up was less than might have been expected.  
As for President Trump, he has done something unusual.  For someone rarely short of an opinion, Trump has gone Trappist on Gaza.  
The donor community will be vital.  Do not forget — the Palestinian economy is largely based on donor funding, without which it would crash.  The flipside is that donors could keep most of their money if the blockade of Gaza were lifted and the obstacles to access, travel and trade were removed. 
Donors, not least the EU, will have to back any new Palestinian government both before and after any elections. A repeat of the freeze on contact and funding after the 2006 elections that Hamas won would be disastrous. 
Even Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister at the time, and until recently the Quartet Representative, has admitted, albeit too late, that it was wrong to boycott Hamas in 2006.   
Against this, trust ranges somewhere between zero and zero. President Mahmoud Abbas has often scotched previous efforts. He was clearly unnerved by two factors. During the Jerusalem crisis, he was clearly isolated and seen as irrelevant. Secondly, his rival, Mohammad Dahlan, was making progress with his deals with Hamas, backed by Egypt and the UAE. 
Few parties in the region trust Hamas, especially Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt. This is unlikely to change.

The unity deal between Hamas and Fatah is welcome, especially by the beleaguered people of Gaza, but there are many obstacles to overcome before it can be judged a success.

Chris Doyle

On the military front, Hamas is not going to become a peace movement, let alone give up its arms. This may well prove, as nearly all experts agree, to be the key issue. 
Strangely, Gaza’s streets have been safer in the past 10 years because there was one authority, one police force. If Fatah forces return to Gaza, a return to competing security forces answerable to different factions is a real risk. Only a de-factionalized Palestinian security force acting solely in the national interest can lay the groundwork for genuine peace. 
The alternative is a Hezbollah model, something that Israel, let alone others, will never accept, and more importantly would be disastrous for Palestinians. 
A major marker of success will be if the Palestinian Authority lifts the punitive sanctions on Gaza. This would mean the return of up to eight hours electricity and the resumption of civil service salaries.  
All this is a short-term, if needed, fillip. The blockade must be addressed. Egypt can open the Rafah crossing, something that happened for only 44 days in 2016, permitting normal traffic of people at least, as it is not a goods crossing. 
The sole goods crossing at Keren Shalom is of course under full Israeli control, as is Erez, the only exit that allows Palestinians to get to the West Bank.  
And it is Israel, the occupying power, who more than any external actor will be judge and jury over the fate of Gaza.  
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may not yet have crashed the talks or the agreement but he has the time and the wherewithal to do so. Predicting how Israel will react may be tougher than usual.  
If it were rational, Israel would realize that two million Palestinians living in such ignominy is a major driver of extremism and insecurity.   
But Netanyahu and other ministers have delighted in a Fatah-Hamas split that allowed Israel to avoid a peace deal and keep Palestinians divided politically and physically. Most right-wing Israeli politicians hope the Fatah-Hamas deal will disintegrate unaided and in a way that Israel cannot be blamed. 
One of the biggest questions remains if anything will alter this Israeli calculus to the extent that the people of Gaza may be allowed to live free once again.    
• Chris Doyle is director of the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding. He has worked with the council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. Twitter: @Doylech
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