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Resistance and discord
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 04 - 03 - 2010

When everyone knows that Israel's occupation cannot be ended when Palestinians are disunited, why does division continue, asks Saleh Al-Naami
The anger was very clear on the old man's face as he marched in a demonstration in Gaza to protest against the Israeli government's decision to annex several historic and religious Palestinian sites in the West Bank. But Haj Ammar, 82, was directing his anger at Fatah and Hamas whom he holds responsible for Israel's continued antagonism and hostilities against the Palestinians. "If there was national unity, we wouldn't be here," Haj Ammar complained to Al-Ahram Weekly. "It is time to close ranks and end divisions. What are they waiting for before they come together against the occupation?"
Most Palestinians agree with the old man, blaming internal divisions for the wretched lives they are leading in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. But there are no indicators that the time has come to end discord. Both sides remain obstinate in their positions. Even as people took to the streets en masse in Palestinian cities to protest against Israeli measures, a war of words erupted once more between Fatah and Hamas. It was triggered by the call of Parliament Speaker Aziz Al-Dweik to hold an emergency parliamentary session to discuss national reconciliation and Israel's violation of Islamic holy sites.
In reaction, the leader of the Fatah bloc in parliament, Azzam Al-Ahmed, accused Al-Dweik of conspiring against the Palestinian Authority (PA), insisting that Al-Dweik had lost his mandate as parliament speaker. The outburst crushed any hopes stirred by a recent visit by Nabil Shaath, member of Fatah's Central Committee, to Gaza and his meetings with deposed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and other Hamas leaders.
Fatah also announced that it would postpone a visit to Gaza because Hamas is unreceptive to the idea, and because Israel has not issued the necessary permits for the trip. Sabri Saydam, the first undersecretary for Fatah's Revolutionary Council, stated that his group received information that Hamas has decided not to allow the Fatah delegation to enter Gaza. Saydam added that Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) factions are attempting to mediate between the two sides in order to allow for Fatah to go to Gaza.
Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, member of Hamas's politburo, spoke to the Weekly about mediation efforts to reconcile the Palestinians, and the implications of division on overall conditions for Palestinians. Al-Zahhar admitted that divisions negatively impact the Palestinian people's will to resist Israeli policies, but he blamed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah for this situation.
"There are those who unfairly blame internal fractures for this state of affairs," he asserted. "Since the Oslo agreements, Fatah and Abbas have submitted to passive resistance in the form of negotiations. They consider a demonstration or even a strike as a belligerent step. Fayyad's government is placing the people under siege and prevents them from participating in demonstrations against the occupation."
Al-Zahhar added that Fatah pursues the resistance movement and continues security coordination with the occupying forces. "These actions are at the core of Fatah's policies, and hence we should not solely blame internal discord for the status quo," he said.
Concerning mediation efforts between the two sides, the Hamas leader accused Arab governments of not earnestly pursuing an end to Palestinian internal disagreement. "Unfortunately, the official Arab position is hampering reconciliation," Al-Zahhar proclaimed. "The Arabs deal with the Palestinian issue as if they had no stake in it. There is no genuine will by Arab regimes to end Palestinian divisions; some Arab states are more interested in using Palestinian discord to serve their own interests instead of achieving reconciliation."
Al-Zahhar cited the example of the upcoming Arab summit, where some Arab parties suggested that the Palestinian delegation should include Hamas members, while others have objected. He added that there is also controversy over whether the inter-Palestinian quarrel should even be on the summit's agenda. Several Arab and Palestinian parties believe it should be included, while others claim that the issue could cause the summit to fail altogether.
"Regrettably, there is no hope that internal Palestinian accord or reconciliation will be reached against this conflicted Arab backdrop," he asserted. "Anyone who closely observes what is happening will realise this." Al-Zahhar believes that one of the reasons for why Arab leaders are mishandling Palestinian reconciliation is because they endorse the idea that the Palestinians can reach resolution by themselves. In reality, this gives Abbas the opportunity to act as he wishes with no accountability.
The Hamas leader further accused "some Arab parties" of favouring Fatah, which obstructs reaching conciliation. "When Abbas feels there is complete support for his position he becomes more obstinate and extreme in his outlook regarding reconciliation, as we see today," Al-Zahhar stated.
Responding to strong criticism of Hamas, even by Palestinians who are close to the group, for not signing the Egyptian proposal, Al-Zahhar insisted that his group's caution about the plan is rooted in the fact that Hamas does not want to repeat what happened with the Mecca Accord. "We don't want to go back to in-fighting after we sign the document," he stated. "We should not let our people down again."
Al-Zahhar explained that Egypt and Hamas reached agreement about the terms of the proposal, "but we were surprised that final language included clauses that we did not agree to. We believe that these articles are time bombs that undermine the possibility of reaching real unity."
The Hamas leader admitted that "there are differences of opinion" regarding the Egyptian proposal between the group's leadership, inside the Palestinian territories and abroad. There are reports that the leadership inside is leaning towards signing the plan, while those abroad insist on some revisions. "There are many viewpoints within Hamas on this issue, as is the case within all Palestinian factions," revealed Al-Zahhar. "But diverse opinions do not in any way mean that the group does not have an official position arrived at by its consultative bodies. There are no sensitivities if a certain opinion is rejected, as long as the final decision is reached through the proper procedures."
Nonetheless, Al-Zahhar disclosed that leadership disagreements caused him to resign his portfolio of negotiating the release of prisoners with Israel. He explained that he was unable to continue in his post as a result of conflicting opinions with his colleagues about handling the matter. Al-Zahhar wanted to confirm that he is no longer involved in the issue.
Meanwhile, hundreds of Palestinians in political, academic and media circles signed a petition calling on the PLO leadership to work towards achieving national unity, ending divisions, and not restarting talks with Israel unless it clearly commits to freezing all settlement activities. The petition warned that re-launching negotiations would jeopardise the success of reconciliation and would weaken the international boycott of Israel championed by an international popular solidarity movement.
According to the document, the national priorities of the Palestinian people are to end divisions and for Hamas to sign the Egyptian proposal. The petition further asserted that restoring Palestinian unity based on political participation "is the correct path towards designing a work strategy for the national struggle to end the occupation of Palestinian lands, achieving freedom and sovereignty, as well as guaranteeing the right of return."
Political analyst Hani Al-Masri believes that one of the main reasons why a third Intifada against the occupation has not broken out yet is political and geographic divisions. "Discord has broken the backs of the Palestinians," Al-Masri declared. "It has resulted in a sense of despair and oppression, while preoccupation with a destructive internal conflict has dissipated their energy. It has also enabled occupation forces to implement their plan rapidly and at a lower cost."
He continued: "the crucial step to take now in order for the next Intifada to bring about concrete results is to prioritise ending disagreement and renew national unity on the basis of a joint and united national agenda." Al-Masri believes that "occupation cannot be resisted and conquered if we are divided. It is almost criminal for anyone to perpetuate and deepen divisions in the belief that his side is the only one entitled to lead."
There is no doubt in the mind of most Palestinians that any real fight against occupation and its policies requires first and foremost an end to discord and its grave repercussions. This is what has moved the Palestinian masses to pressure all sides to end their differences promptly.

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