Rocky road to bridging Palestinian political divide

Pro-Palestine protesters wave flags and chant slogans in Rabat, Morocco. (AFP/File)
Updated 04 July 2019

Rocky road to bridging Palestinian political divide

  • Proposal submitted to hold parliamentary elections ‘to restore national unity’

GAZA CITY: The idea of holding legislative elections in Palestine does not seem to have inspired Hamas and other factions as a solution to the political divide between the West Bank and Gaza Strip since 2007.

Hamas requires simultaneous elections, including the Palestinian Legislative Council and the presidency, with the possibility of postponing the elections of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) for some time.

Palestinian presidential adviser for international relations, Nabil Shaath, revealed that Fatah had submitted a proposal to hold elections to the Palestinian Parliament “to restore national unity and end the division” after years of failure to implement the various agreements reached by Hamas and Fatah with Egyptian help.

Shaath said that Fatah was waiting for an official response from Hamas during the upcoming visit of the Egyptian security delegation. The proposal included the holding of legislative elections in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, with the participation of all factions, to form a government according to the proportion of each faction of votes and the result obtained in the elections.

Cairo and other Arab countries have been trying to mediate between Hamas and Fatah for many years, most recently in October 2017, which partially restored the Palestinian government to the Gaza Strip but failed after an assassination attempt on former Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in March 2018.

Hamas spokesman in Gaza, Hazem Qasem, did not find in the offer of Fateh by Shaath an optimal solution to end the division, describing the proposal as a “political injustice,” and accusing Fateh of a lack of seriousness and continued evasion of the reconciliation, especially with regard to the agreement signed in Cairo in 2011.

Qasem pointed out that the presidential and legislative elections needed to be synchronized in order to “renew the different legitimacy.”

He told Arab News: “Elections need to prepare the situation to ensure transparency. It is unreasonable to hold elections under political arrests in the West Bank and without a consensus election law.”

The Constitutional Court in Ramallah issued a decision some months ago to dissolve the Legislative Council, which was dominated by a Hamas majority during the last elections in 2006, and effectively expired in 2010.

A member of the political bureau of the Islamic Jihad, Khaled Al-Batsh, told Arab News: “A national meeting should be held quickly for all secretary-generals of Palestinian factions and parties to agree to hold legislative and presidential elections and a national council of PLO and restore the role of the Palestine Liberation Organization.”

He called for the holding of general presidential and legislative elections and a national council as part of the reconciliation agreement signed in 2011, stressing that “if the elections came in a national context, we will support it, but our participation will be limited to PLO.”

Talal Abu Zarifa, a political bureau member of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), said that the holding of legislative elections only, was not an ideal option to overcome the bitter reality of division.

He told Arab News: “The DFLP believes that the re-correction of the Palestinian political system requires elections for the presidency, the legislature and the National Council, simultaneously, national consensus, on the basis of full proportional representation, and any other option is a waste of time.”

The declared positions may not be final, other interests might make changes. The reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah has entered into several stages. The two parties are not eager to reach unity, while accusing each other of obstructing it.

Political analyst Hani Habib believes that without internal understandings, genuine reconciliation and sincere will to implement the previous agreements, it would be difficult to agree on any form of elections, despite rumors of an Egyptian approach to propose the first legislative elections and agreeing to postpone the presidential elections to a specific time.

“The agreement on holding the elections requires good preparation in terms of drafting the election law, unifying the judicial system, which suffers a sharp division in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and also agrees on the competence of the security bodies that protect the conduct of elections,” Habib added.

He stressed that there was Egyptian anger at the lack of commitment of the two rivals to understandings and agreements, sponsored by Cairo, by the delay in the implementation of the obligations imposed by the agreements.

Habib said that the solution to the internal Palestinian problem lay in identifying practical mechanisms and a timetable for the implementation of the reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo in 2017, if there was a genuine and sincere will of all parties.

Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

Updated 27 min 4 sec ago

Emirati astronaut prepares to join elite Arab space club

  • Hazza Al-Mansoori 'living a dream' as he and backup astronaut train for space mission in September
  • Soyuz-MS 15 launch could be the beginning of a bold new era of Arab exploration of space

DUBAI: More than 30 years after an Arab first journeyed into space, an  Emirati is preparing to become the latest Arab space traveler when he joins a team of astronauts at the International Space Station (ISS) in September.

For months, Hazza Al-Mansoori and backup pilot Sultan Al-Neyadi have been undergoing intensive training in Russia, Germany and the US to prepare for the mission. The first Emirati to travel into space will make the historic journey on board a Soyuz-MS 15 spacecraft due to take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Sept. 25.

During the eight-day mission, he will conduct a tour of the ISS for Arabic viewers on Earth and carry out 15 experiments for the Science in Space schools competition conducted by Dubai’s Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center.

The crew, who will include an American and a Russian, are allowed to take up to 1 kg of personal items with them on the mission.

“I will take my family photo and share the experience of being in space with them,” Al-Mansoori said. There will also be an image of Sheikh Zayed, the UAE’s founding father, meeting American astronauts in 1976.

“I am also going to take an Emirati flag. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.”

‘I will take an Emirati flag into space. I am living my dream and want to give something back to my country.’

Emirati astronaut Hazza Al-Mansoori

Al-Mansoori will join an elite space club comprising Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan bin Salman and Syria’s Muhammed Faris. Prince Sultan became the first Arab to travel to space as part of space shuttle Discovery’s crew in 1985. Faris was a crew member of USSR’s Soyuz spacecraft in 1987.

The Emirati astronaut is aware that history is resting on his shoulders. Speaking to the media recently during his training program in Houston, Al-Mansoori  said it is a huge personal honor to be the first Emirati chosen for space exploration.

“I’m excited about the whole mission, but especially to experience the microgravity and be living in the ISS, and conducting daily experiments and working with the amazing group on board,” he said.

Al-Mansoori and Al-Neyadi have been undergoing rigorous training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The program includes familiarization with NASA equipment on board the space station, and handling emergency situations, such as ammonia gas leaks and depressurization.

The Emiratis have been trained to fend for themselves if the return goes off course and they land in the wilderness of Russia.

Speaking of the Soyuz-MS 15 mission, Yousuf Al-Shaibani, director general of the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center, said: “We strive to see the UAE Astronaut Program achieve its objective of preparing generations of Emiratis who will contribute to enhancing the country’s position in space science and research to serve the ambitious aspirations aimed at building a national knowledge-based economy.”

The September launch could prove to be the beginning of a bold new era for Arabs and space. Al-Neyadi, the backup pilot, has been promised a seat on a future mission, and the UAE and Saudi Arabia are drawing up ambitious plans for the development of the region’s space industry.