Abdullah Iskandar
Dar Al-Hayat (Opinion)
October 26, 2009 - 12:00am

It is as if President Mahmoud Abbas was telling the Hamas movement: “Alright, you took over the Gaza Strip by force of arms and ruled it. You expelled the Fatah movement and all the figures of the Palestinian Authority from it by force of arms. You never committed to any of the previous agreements of appeasement. You declare your fierce opposition to the Oslo Accords and what they have resulted in. Yet you hold truces with Israel when it wages military operations against Gaza. You hold against the PA its relations with the United States. Yet you seek to be recognized by the US, even if it is by sending it a message through former President Jimmy Carter. You have procrastinated a great deal in the negotiations for reconciliation under Egyptian sponsorship, and when Cairo set down its document on the basis of these marathonic negotiations and the time came to ratify it, you refused under insubstantial pretexts.

Alright, you want to keep the Gaza Strip by military force and refuse anything less. Well then, congratulations, you can keep the Strip with all of its worries and sorrows. We in the Palestinian Authority will continue to move forward alone and without you. Thus we have decided to hold the presidential and legislative elections as scheduled, according to Basic Law, to prevent constitutional vacuum.”

If this is the presumed content of Abbas’s message to Hamas, by announcing the date of the elections without prior agreement, then the latter will not let the occasion pass without revoking his legitimacy as President, and therefore that of the elections, and accusing him of working to increase division and serve Israeli schemes.

There does not seem to be anything new in the message or the response to it, as all that can be read in both cases has been seen and heard before at every occasion. Yet what is new is extending Hamas’s deadline for responding to the Egyptian document. Indeed, the movement agreeing to the reconciliation document would necessarily cancel out the date set by Abbas for the elections, and would call for an agreement over a new date that would be approved by both sides.

In this sense, it is likely that Abbas’s decision was tactical and political; a decision that would place Hamas, which of course would reject these elections under such circumstances, before a difficult choice. This will also force it to return to the reconciliation document, more than it will be a serious step to hold these elections, which will certainly take place in the West Bank alone and will be boycotted in the Gaza Strip, this in spite of assertions to the contrary.

It is also expected for Hamas to be, from now until the scheduled date at the beginning of next year, the object of great pressure and of a predicament in its options. Indeed, going back on the conditions of it agreeing to the reconciliation does away with the credibility of its political stance, which it defended during the negotiations. Not agreeing this time means taking the risk of effectively appearing not just as obstructers of the reconciliation, but also as responsible for the complete rupture between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as long as the PA is armed with Basic Law, which requires it to set a date for the elections.

In this sense, the next phase will be one of effectively biting fingers between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, and all weapons will be honed and ready for use. In this phase will be decided, and for a long period of time, the fate of Palestinian reconciliation and unity.

If Egyptian mediation manages to once again gather all the Palestinians around the table of negotiation and agreement, then this is most likely to freeze the presidential decision to set the elections to a date agreed upon by both sides. This would not mean an end to the disagreement between their plans, but would at least mean restoring some form of unity, even if frail.

History has witnessed similar divisions amid one people, during the Cold War, and the current Palestinian division will be the price of continuing to wage the Cold War between the Arabs and Israel. Palestinian leaders must decide today whether they want to continue paying such a price at the expense of their project as a nation.


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