A twin set of achievements for the Palestinians was concluded Friday when Fatah held a mass rally in the Gaza Strip, a no-go area for its cadres since 2007. It was preceded by a similar event for Hamas in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, has wielded power. Friday also saw the issuing of a decree by Abbas, doing away with the P.A. and replacing it with the State of Palestine.
Some might consider these wins modest, or just symbolic, but they follow two political victories in November. The Palestinians secured an observer non-member status at the U.N. in New York, and in Gaza , they managed to blunt a deadly Israeli offensive, the kind that in the past could have dragged on for weeks and months. Not surprisingly, the former feat was political, and spearheaded by Abbas, while the latter was undertaken largely by Hamas, the leading Palestinian military actor.
But both sides know that neither is able to go it alone when it comes to the future of the Palestinian cause.
This means Palestinian politicians now face a difficult task. To give these series of events any staying power, they must complete what has proved the most elusive: a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
The two sides have engaged in attempt after attempt at patching up their differences, but recent developments have only proven that they agree on the major issues facing the Palestinian people.
With the announcement that the State of Palestine has replaced the P.A., it’s time to move forcefully into a post-Oslo era, which should be marked by expanding the Palestine Liberation Organization so it includes major groups that have been outside the fold, like Hamas.
Instead of moving backward, into a phase of selecting appropriate venues for reconciliation talks, such as Egypt and Qatar, the Palestinians should focus on substance. If their intentions are honest, Palestinian factions could meet at any place in order to conclude the kind of agreement that is urgently needed by their people.
Palestinian officials are well aware of the host of daunting challenges they face. Israeli right-wing groups are talking increasingly of annexing Palestinian territory, and the Netanyahu government’s zest for boosting settlement activity is there for all to see. Palestinian groups confront huge difficulties when it comes to finances, since the U.N.s’ recognition of Palestine as a non-member state has given its enemies even more incentive to cut off aid flows and the financial resources desperately needed by people inside Palestine. Furthermore, Arab states have been able to use the Palestinians’ internal weakness and division as an excuse for not providing even more material and other types of aid.
The new entity that was unveiled Friday in Ramallah will remain a mere symbolic step without a durable and substantial reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas, and if 2013 is to be a year of good news for the Palestinians, the recent momentum must be capitalized on, and quickly.