Algiers deal won’t change status quo but Palestinians can
No one, including those who signed the accord in Algiers last Thursday, believes that the Palestinian factions will this time stick to the reconciliation deal that aims to end 15 years of bitter division. The latest deal — one of many that even date back to before Hamas militants took over the besieged Gaza Strip in a bloody putsch against the Palestinian Authority in 2007 — is unlikely to change the status quo in spite of the almost unanimous urging of the Palestinian people for an end to the rift.
Unlike previous deals, which began in Makkah in 2007 and were adopted again in various forms in Doha, Istanbul, Dakar, Cairo and Gaza city, this time the main factions, Fatah and Hamas, failed to agree on one key point: The forming of a national unity government.
The document did include clauses on developing the structures of the Palestine Liberation Organization, forming its national council and holding legislative and presidential elections. The last item has been agreed upon more times than anyone can remember. The last time President Mahmoud Abbas called for such elections was in January 2021, only to “postpone” the polls four months later. The excuse was that Israel did not offer guarantees that East Jerusalem Palestinians would be allowed to vote.
For the Palestinians, there is an ominous sense of deja vu regarding the Algiers accord. Even as the UN, EU and many countries praised the agreement, in reality, neither party feels pressed to go into a partnership that could spell disaster for either or even both. The fact that Hamas feels relatively safe holding the reins in Gaza and is now eyeing extending its influence into the West Bank is enough reason for Fatah, the largest PLO faction, to derail any agreement.
Likewise, the PA under the ailing Abbas is in no mood to alter the status quo. It believes it remains the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and continues to enjoy the support and recognition of the international community, including both Israel and the US.
The fact that Israel has managed to establish some sort of a framework with Hamas in Gaza is important. Even though the two sides continue to demonize each other in public, the reality is that Hamas and Israel have reached an informal understanding. This became apparent in the recent confrontation between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel, during which Hamas sat on the proverbial fence.
Israel is now issuing thousands of work permits to Gazans as daily workers; permits that benefit Hamas’s empty coffers. A delicate truce has been established between Israel and Hamas, with the former keeping the blockaded Strip alive for now.
Another important point has to do with the fact that Hamas’s military wing has more leverage on how things progress on the political front than the movement’s titular leadership. In short, the military wing is not bound by what Ismail Haniyeh agreed to in Algiers.
On the other side, Fatah is fractured and the PA is hated by most Palestinians. Its survival is, ironically, tethered to Israel’s military and political bodies’ good intentions. In recent months, the PA’s popularity, and that of Abbas, has dipped as lone wolf-style Palestinian attacks against Israelis have suddenly surged. Israel’s response — as it prepares for a fifth Knesset election in less than four years, which could prove consequential to the future of the state — has been to crack down with bloody force.
Since the beginning of the year, thousands of Palestinian youths have been arrested, while Israel’s army has engaged in a killing spree of militant Palestinians in Jenin, Nablus and elsewhere. Since the assassination of Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the rate of Palestinian attacks against the occupiers has been on the rise. So much so that the Israeli government is holding security meetings to address the new phenomenon known as the Lions’ Den resistance movement, which is sweeping the West Bank. That movement is not tied to any of the known Palestinian factions and is well armed. It is posing the biggest security challenge for the Israeli government a few weeks before the Nov. 1 elections.
Interestingly, this is one security challenge for Israel in which the PA, notorious for its coordination with the occupiers, can offer little help.
Neither Hamas nor Fatah feels pressed to go into a partnership that could spell disaster for either or even both.
The Algiers deal will soon be forgotten as the rift between the PA and Hamas deepens. The upcoming Arab League summit — also in Algiers at the beginning of next month — will praise it while Abbas, who did not attend the two days of talks in the Algerian capital, may even make additional false promises. For a growing number of Palestinians, the 87-year-old self-proclaimed patriarch has become more of a pied piper; delivering promises he cannot keep. He is still making the same old threats to sever ties with Israel and withhold recognition.
Only the Palestinian people, inside the Green Line and in the Occupied Territories, can upset the deadly status quo and change the current trajectory. The fact is that the status quo is unsustainable and change could come when all parties, including Israel, least expect it.
- Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010