The news coming from Moscow about the Palestinian unity government is puzzling for the Palestinian people. On the one hand, a decade of failures to implement reconciliation agreements between the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, testifies that business (of rivalry) will remain as usual.
For a long time, both Fatah and Hamas showed many signs that they were neither willing nor interested in having a genuine agreement that bridged the intra-Palestinian divide, as the current status quo is convenient for them especially with the absence of any forms of popular local accountability .
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On the other hand, recent local, regional and global developments pile further pressure on the Palestinian leadership to be more responsive to the aspirations of the people, and more responsible about the damage they are inflicting on the Palestinian struggle for justice and self-determination.
Locally, the recent wave of popular protests in Gaza over electricity cuts shocked Hamas, the de facto government ruling the strip. The protests reflected the fragile situation that could explode any time and threaten Hamas’ rule.
Meanwhile, Fatah and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is facing pressure on three fronts: US President Donald Trump’s intention to move the US embassy to Jerusalem; the increasing popularity of the strategy of annexation among the Israeli leaders; as well as the PA leadership’s desperate attempts to pursue the negotiation track with Israel following this month’s Paris peace conference.
Therefore, despite the legitimacy crisis that characterises the Palestinian political system, and as a new regional and global reality unfolds, the Palestinian political leaders feel compelled to create new realities or at least engage more seriously in a process of positive change to face the forthcoming challenges and political opportunities.
They feel compelled to show some response to the regional changes and the new global order, especially that it is evident by now that the intra-Palestinian reconciliation is a regional matter.
The re-emergence of Russia as a key player in the intra-Palestinian political domain is indicative of this new global order.
The Moscow declaration about forming a Palestinian unity government was an outcome of intense meetings over the past month in Doha, Montreux in Switzerland, Cairo, Lebanon, and finally Moscow.
The series of meetings contributed to the emergence of the “ripe moment” in Moscow. While Moscow reaped the fruit, the planting of the seeds happened elsewhere, including in occupied Palestine.
The meetings, especially the informal civil society-led meeting in Montreux, reflected a consensus among the leadership of the Palestinian political factions, Hamas included, on forming a Palestinian unity government .
It is envisaged that such a government would be political and not technocratic in nature, and would be responsible for fulfilling three main goals: unifying the public-sector institutions between Gaza and Ramallah; addressing the urgent issues related the Palestinian security sector, electricity and reconstruction of Gaza; and preparing for Palestinian National Council, Palestinian Legislative Council, local and presidential elections.
Yet this government, when and if it is formed, has to overcome a couple of obstacles in the short term: pass President Mahmoud Abbas’ test; and confront the international community and Israeli pressure.
It is unclear whether Abbas will give the green light to the implementation of the arrangements agreed in Moscow, or continue to insist that this unity government is the “president’s government” obliged to enact his political programme and vision.
But Abbas is under great pressure to compromise and face the Trump-era reality with a stronger Palestinian front.
Additionally, Azzam al-Ahmad, who leads the Fatah delegation in reconciliation talks with Hamas, has mentioned several times over the past month – most recently in Moscow – that they stop all relations with the Middle East Quartet as a political body, although he did not mention the Quartet conditionality per se.
The significance of this move stems from the problematic role of the Quartet and its destructive impact on bridging the intra-Palestinian divide.
Hamas, in turn, announced during the Montreux meeting, that it was putting the final touches to its new charter which has passed through all its internal structures. This change points to the transformations that Hamas has gone through over the past decade, largely due to regional dynamics, that should be wisely utilised by the international community.
Despite the seemingly positive news and developments, Palestinians should not be under the illusion that a genuine Palestinian unity is attainable in the short run, nor that the intra-Palestinian divide will be bridged rapidly.
Far from it, especially as the accountability mechanisms are lacking and the implementation will be prone to risks and obstacles similar to the ones that caused the failures over the past decade.
Ensuring a meaningful unity requires a serious engagement in restructuring and reinventing the Palestinian political system, structures, and institutions.
It also means an agreement on the political programme, tools and objectives that are inclusive and participatory in nature.
Unless there are effective accountability mechanisms, the Palestinian people – especially with their continuous marginalisation in their political system – are excused to remain sceptical about the reconciliation deja vu.
The path for Palestinian unity is clear, but it requires strong political will and sacrifices. Last month’s series of meetings provided a golden opportunity for the Palestinian political leaders to shape a new reality.
The question remains: will they really seize the opportunity this time round?