This week, Fatah and Hamas — the two main Palestinian political factions, will begin to outline plans for reconciliation and the formation of a new unity government as Gaza residents remain cautiously optimistic that this could mean the end of the blockade and shortages of fuel, water and vital supplies in the region.
Today, Mousa Abu Marzouk, deputy chairman of Hamas’s political wing, confirmed through the party’s website that Fatah representatives from Ramallah will arrive in Gaza to start talks on the formation of a transitional government body that will make the necessary arrangements to hold general elections six months from now.
If the elections occur, it would be the first time that Palestinians get to vote on a new government in almost a decade.
Mahmood Abbas, the current president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) based in the West Bank, was elected in 2005.
General elections took place a year later with Hamas winning a majority of the votes.
The international community and Israel supported Abbas who dissolved the unity government and remained in power, in the West Bank. Israel then began the blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza, which continues to this day.
Guarded Hope for Reunification
After the breakdown in the latest round of US-brokered negotiations between Israel and PA, President Abbas announced that he was seeking reconciliation with Hamas and eventually the creation of a new government made up of members from both parties.
This unexpected development sparked celebrations in the Gaza Strip. Residents are hopeful that a new government could mean an end to the blockade and the shortages of fuel, water, building material, and jobs it has caused over the years.
Israel promptly suspended the talks in reaction to the unity deal and then let the April 29 deadline pass without any effort to salvage negotiations — placing the blame on the Palestinians. The Israeli government also leveled a variety of economic sanctions against the PA that include a freeze on Palestinian funds held in Israeli banks and an increase in the amount of money deducted from monthly taxes collected on behalf of the PA.
The U.S. State Department expressed their disappointment over the timing of Abbas’s announcement but that it did not oppose a Palestinian unity government as long as it would recognize Israel, renounce violence and honor past agreements.
"The timing was troubling, and we were certainly disappointed in the announcement," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in news briefing last week. "This could seriously complicate our efforts — not just our efforts but the efforts of the parties to extend their negotiations."
The U.S.’s reaction to Abbas’s change of course drew ire from Israelis officials.
"We expect that the American statement be much more decisive and determined," a senior Israeli official told Haaretz, Israel's oldest daily newspaper.
"The Americans need to make it clear to Abbas that this is a red line. He just can't associate with Hamas. We don't accept that the Americans are talking about the policy of the unity government once it is formed, and are ignoring the fact that this is an alliance with Hamas. The Americans need to tell Abbas that he allied himself with a terrorist group and that they cannot accept this," the official told Haaretz.
Zohair Kahlot, manager of the Great Omari Mosque in Gaza City, said that despite the initial jubilation over the announcement, Gaza residents were staying realistic and keeping their hopes in check.
“The people want unity but are worried because of all the failures of the past. Reconciliation could open the Egyptian and the Israeli crossings…the people can have freedom of movement; they can go out and have opportunities to study and work abroad,” Kahlot told VICE News. “This will improve the economic situation in Gaza but I think this is a land of no stability so I tell myself and others that we should be ready for all conditions, whether there is unity or not.”
Kahlot doesn’t think that Hamas should have to recognize Israel for the sake of the reconciliation — something Abbas said the new unity government would do despite Hamas’s contradictory claims. “As Muslims, we love peace, we are not enemies with the Jews, we could have been good neighbors. Unfortunately they took our homes and expelled us and never recognized the Palestinian people. So before asking us to recognize them, Israel should admit the rights of Palestinians people. Then we can negotiate this issue,” he said.
Near the mosque, Kamel Ayyad, a public relations officer for the Church of Saint Porphyrius expressed optimism about the recent developments.
“The situation around us, in Egypt especially, is different now,” he said in reference to the ouster of the Morsi regime, whose Muslim Brotherhood party had close ties with political leaders in Gaza. “Hamas understands finally that there is no solution except to go and shake hand with Fatah. Most of the people here they look for it; for peace, for the unification between Hamas and Fatah.”
Ayyad believes that Abbas’s pivot away from dealing with the Israelis, to instead try and strengthen Palestine under a single government by joining with Hamas was the right course of action.
“We are Palestinians, we are Arabs, and maybe we have some problems between our ideas but everything will change. I don't believe that Israel wants real peace at all. No Palestinian believes that…now they have a siege around Gaza Strip they're controlling the West Bank, and they're building the settlements, ” he said.
An Uncertain Future
Though Fatah and Hamas are outwardly eager to work through their differences there are many obstacles lining the way towards reconciliation and the formation of a new government.
Foremost among the key issues is how the security forces of both parties will be consolidated.
Also unclear is how Israel, the United States, and EU will come to terms with a Palestinian government that includes elements of Hamas — considered by all three to be a terrorist organization.