by Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah
Palestinians are waiting impatiently to see the unravelling of the latest efforts to bring about reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas following statements by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas that he would be willing to visit Gaza soon in order to sign an agreement with Hamas.
Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Gaza- based Hamas government, said in a speech on 15 March he was inviting Abbas to visit Gaza so the two leaders "could iron out an agreement" that would end internal divisions once and for all.
To the surprise of many, Abbas agreed to come. But his acceptance was conditional as the PA president stressed carefully that he wouldn't go to engage in "futile negotiations" or indulge in a lengthy dialogue with Hamas leaders.
"Make no mistake about it. I am only going to sign the agreement; I won't engage in negotiations or anything of this sort."
But there has been no reconciliation agreement to be signed by the two largest political camps in occupied Palestine, which makes the latest efforts more of a game of make believe, at least from a public relations perspective, and less a genuine resolution of outstanding contentious issues.
Officials in Gaza said Abbas would be always welcomed to visit "his home", but added that outstanding issues would have to be threshed out first.
"This is not a matter of good chemistry versus bad chemistry. There are real issues that must be resolved first so that our national unity will rest on a solid base," said Hamas official Mushir Al-Masri.
He added: "I would rather see the visit postponed for a few days or weeks and succeed than seeing it take place now and fail. Again, the matter goes beyond courtesy and hospitability."
Some Hamas officials in Gaza have intimated that there is a widespread suspicion in Gaza that Fatah is trying to plot a public relations ambush for Hamas by showing the Islamist movement as the party that impedes national reconciliation.
Hamas has already accused Fatah of using the 15 March Facebook mini-uprising to foment incitement against the Islamist movement. Hamas said numerous Fatah activists infiltrated the 15 March protesters, who were demanding an end to division, prompting security forces to disperse demonstrators forcibly, especially after slogans were voiced demanding an end to the "coup," a charged word implying that Hamas is the villain while Fatah represents true legitimacy.
Fatah officials in Ramallah said if all goes well, Abbas and Haniyeh would sign an agreement that would lead to the formation of "a government of independents" which would prepare for the organisation of general elections in the occupied territories, including both the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
However, Hamas has a host of legitimate reservations and grievances it says must be addressed satisfactorily before any agreement can be resolved. These include the fact that there is no guarantee that Israel, which considers Hamas a terrorist group for resisting the Israeli occupation, will allow Hamas to take part in upcoming elections, as well as the real fear that Israel might well round up all Islamist candidates. Moreover, Hamas is worried that holding elections under the current police state atmosphere in the West Bank, whereby Hamas is effectively outlawed, would be detrimental to its chances. Hence, the Islamist group demands a prolonged intervening period extending to at least one year.
More to the point, Hamas strongly objects to any special relations between the interim government, or government of independents, and Israel (ie, no security coordination with Israel).
With vindictive media attacks between the two sides continuing unabated, there is very little evidence that mistrust between Fatah and Hamas is waning. This is hardly an atmosphere that is conducive to a genuine rapprochement.
This week, media reports quoted Tawfiq Teirawi, the former chief of the notorious PA mukhabarat, or general intelligence, as saying that he would seek to destabilise the Hamas government if Hamas kept on stonewalling.
"Pressure must be exerted on Hamas from all directions; and propaganda must be boosted to incite public opinions against it," he said.
Teirawi also admitted that Fatah was behind the "youth initiative" of 15 March, which called for massive rallies and demonstrations to press for an end to the rift between Fatah and Hamas.
Similarly, Mohamed Nazzal, a Damascus-based Hamas official, accused the Palestine Liberation Organisation leadership of lacking the necessary goodwill to bring about genuine and lasting Palestinian reconciliation.
"They want us to go back to the so-called Egyptian document, but they know well in their hearts that this document was biased in Fatah's favour and aimed first and foremost at weakening Hamas. Now, there are changes in the Arab world that Fatah and the PA must take into account."
It is still uncertain if Abbas will visit Gaza and meet with Haniyeh. In the final analysis, the success of the visit wouldn't solely depend on the fact that it took place. What looks more certain is that conditions in occupied Palestine and the region as a whole are not conducive to achieving Palestinian reconciliation, if only because of the "Israeli factor".
Israel says openly that it won't deal with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas. The same position is likely to be adopted by the Obama administration and many -- or perhaps most -- European countries.
Finally, the latest escalation of violence in Gaza, where as many as 17 Palestinian civilians, including seven children and two women, were wounded in sustained Israeli air strikes on largely civilian targets, is likely to complicate the task of Palestinian reconciliation.
With the Arab world preoccupied with its internal affairs, and with the international community focusing on Arab revolutions, including the crisis in Libya, it might be expedient for the Palestinians to at least suspend their differences -- that is if they fail to resolve them.
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