By Joharah Baker
It is hard not to hope beyond hope that reconciliation between Palestinians will happen. As Palestinians, we hold out on that hope even against our better judgment merely because there is no other option if we want to move forward towards independence.
So we listen warily to our leaders as their words drip sugar and honey, knowing all too well that just beneath that candy-coat there are agendas, power struggles and an adamancy to maintain the status quo. In the past couple of weeks our hopes rose once again, mostly because we allowed them to. The leaders met in Cairo and in Doha and we believed intentions were genuine. There was talk of a new government, fresh elections and new faces for an old struggle. We were elated.
Today, our hopes have plummeted once again. And while responsibility can be cast on both sides – Hamas and Fatah to be exact – it seems that Hamas should shoulder the lion’s share of blame. We all know that agreements are signed between leaders and we all know that Khaled Meshaal is the leader of Hamas, supposedly both inside Palestine and outside its borders. Apparently, however, Meshaal was not privy to the love of power his Gaza posse has nurtured for so many years. He has since found out.
The Hamas government in Gaza has made excuse after excuse not to adhere to the Doha agreement signed between President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal. While the movement continues to maintain that they are “one voice” and that any internal problems they may encounter could and would be handled amongst themselves, the reality is slightly different. In this week’s Cairo meetings, which were ostensibly set up to discuss the first real steps towards forming the transitional unity government, Hamas began with its litany of “conditions and reservations” leading us back to this point: square one. First it was the legal aspect of allowing President Abbas to assume the post of Prime Minister in the transitional government. Granted, that did not sit very well with any Palestinian, but Abbas guaranteed that he would only fill this post until parliamentary and presidential elections could be held within a few months. That is, after all, one of the main purposes of the national unity government.
But elections proved to be another hitch. So far, Hamas has not allowed the Central Elections Committee to begin voter registry in the Gaza Strip, a process which would take around six weeks before elections can be held. And since that process hasn’t even started, the May date seems highly unlikely indeed.
What is truly extraordinary is just how tight some, in this case Hamas, will hold on to power, even to the detriment of their own people. The electricity crisis in Gaza is the perfect example. Hamas officials have been scrambling to get enough fuel to repower the station after homes, schools and most importantly hospitals have been plunged into darkness for the better part of the 24-hour day. It has tried to downplay PA efforts to secure fuel from Egypt and claim any ‘victory’ on its own. Whatever the case, the fact remains that Hamas may not be as equipped as it claims to run the Gaza Strip on its own. Joining forces with other Palestinian factions, regardless of the imperfections they all have, would no doubt ease the pressure of such matters, not to mention the strength such unity would give Hamas in the face of external challenges to its legitimacy.
But this is sadly not the modus operandi of Hamas. Neither was it Fatah’s when Hamas won the elections back in 2006. Sharing power is not something our leaders like to do. The problem is, this is not ‘real’ power. President Abbas, Ismail Haniyeh, Mahmoud Zahhar and the whole bunch know more than anyone else that as long as we remain under occupation, these struggles over power are just footprints in the sand. One puff from the mighty Israeli dragon and it all goes up in smoke. The PLC members in Israeli prisons will testify to this. So will Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Saadat.
Hamas is at a crossroads. If it continues to shun any and all efforts to honestly move forward with Palestinian reconciliation it may retain power in the Gaza Strip, but not for long. The people are not fools. And once they see that this authority, which is willing to stay in power at any cost is also willing to forfeit national unity, it is only a matter of time before they are on their way out.
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at [email protected].