Palestinians are viewing the reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas with more than a bit of cynicism. So much so, that a popular satirical television program recently portrayed that two factions comically, with the actors making fun of the talks.
In a skit presented on another show, Watan a Watar (Homeland on a Thread), a couple invited their neighbors over to watch and laugh along as Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal and senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed delivered speeches about reconciliation.
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While many are laughing, others believe there is nothing funny about the failure of the reconciliation talks, now into their second year, to bring the sides any closer to the promised unity government and an end to the bifurcation that is seen as one of the greatest impediments to statehood.
Abbas, Mashaal in 2011 Cairo unity talks (Photo: Reuters)
"It's an opportunity that both parties should seize and then unite,” writer and political analyst Jihab Harb told The Media Line. “But I don't see this happening unless Palestinians apply real pressure on the two parties.”
"There is no possibility for reconciliation because Israel and the United States don't want it," senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar told The Media Line.
Many observers are of the opinion that the Hamas mind-set does not support reconciliation. Instead, they opine, the Islamist group is waiting for a breakthrough while paying close attention to events in Egypt, which brokered the 2012 agreement that remains to be fulfilled.
"The Egyptian coup is not final and may change," al-Zahar said.
In a recent interview with The Media Line, political analyst Hani al-Masri said that the principle disagreement between the factions remains the timing of elections. Referring to Hamas’s insistence that the term of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was illegally extended after it expired, thereby rendering the PA an illegitimate government, Al-Masri told The Media Line that, “Any elections (that do not include Hamas) now will not provide the Palestinians with any legality. Without reconciliation, Hamas will boycott such elections and prevent them from being carried out in the Gaza Strip, which will turn the current split into a permanent separation," al-Masri said.
Abdullah Abdullah, a member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council, believes a Hamas ban on the elections in the Gaza Strip can be overcome. "It's still too early to talk about this, but there are other alternatives," Abdullah told The Media Line. He explained that while Fatah insists on the need for general elections, "we don't have a date yet, but we can't wait for each party to decide when they are ready to have elections." He noted that Hamas had previously boycotted the 1996 parliamentary elections.
Even if talks are held, Hamas’s al-Zahar believes Fatah will falsify the election results in the West Bank. "Another problem is that Fatah leaders don't want Palestinians in Gaza to vote because they know they would lose in that area," he said.
Harb said that it is unlikely that either of the two parties has the public support they need to win the election. "Fatah thinks it will win, but I don't see masses of people voting for Fatah or Hamas. They want a third choice, but the others are not strong," he told The Media Line.
Fatah's Abdullah and analyst Harb agree, however, that the current peace talks with Israel under the aegis of US Secretary of State John Kerry requires Palestinian unity. "During the times when crucial decisions will be made, one party can't lead the way alone. Fatah needs Hamas," Harb said.
Despite having voted in two parliamentary elections, Palestinians remain divided between the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Fatah-ruled West Bank, notwithstanding unity pacts agreed to by the parties in Doha and Cairo in 2012.
Egypt facilitated the Cairo agreement and presumably remains the primary peace broker between the factions despite the unrest it’s experiencing. It remains to be seen whether the interim government will be able to broker the creation of a transitional government that would lay the groundwork for presidential and parliamentary elections as the agreement provided for.
Delays in the process are feared because of the instability in Egypt and because the Egypt-Hamas relationship that was growing warmer under the stewardship of President Morsi is currently nose-diving because of the Hamas kinship with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi himself is alleged by the interim government to have conspired with Hamas in carrying out attacks on Egyptian soldiers and in organizing prison breaks before the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.
Harb told The Media Line that while the turn of events in Egypt has not reduced Hamas's popularity among Palestinians, its ability to provide services for its constituents in Gaza has been impeded. "Polls indicate that the core support for Hamas is around 25%," Harb said.
For its part, Hamas denies any loss of power or esteem, and claims such suggestions are part of a Fatah plot against it. Last week, Hamas released papers documenting what it called Fatah's attempts to smear its reputation in Egypt.
The papers, which Fatah leaders claim are fabricated, accuse Fatah of conspiring to sabotage Hamas's reputation by holding it responsible for violent attacks in Egypt.
Notwithstanding the television satires, the charges and countercharges are no laughing matter when it comes to the reconciliation efforts. Even Hamas's al-Zahar admitted that his party is struggling.
"Our crisis is within the general Arabic crises; they were imposed on us," he told The Media Line. "The Egyptian crisis has affected us, but we didn't cause it."
Article written by Diana Atallah
Reprinted with permission from The Media Line
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