When Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah led a large delegation of Fatah officials to the Gaza Strip, many Gazans looked at the reconciliation move with Hamas as a decade-awaited step to end their woes.
Approximately 2,000 people lined the streets and welcomed Hamdallah and his delegation as they crossed the Israeli-controlled Erez border.
“The only way to statehood is through unity,” Hamdallah said at a welcome ceremony attended by Fatah and Hamas officials. “We are coming to Gaza again to deepen the reconciliation and end the split.”
Clashes between the two sides following parliamentary elections in 2006 led to a bloody civil war. After Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority (PA) from Gaza in 2007, two governments were essentially formed in Palestine — a Hamas-led government in Gaza and a PA-led government in the West Bank. Since 2011, numerous attempts have been made to reconcile the two movements and create a power-sharing unity government in Gaza and the West Bank.
In September, a new reconciliation programme offered families of victims $50,000 in compensation each in exchange for relinquishing claims against those blamed for targeting their loved ones.
Mohammad AbuShanab, 24, a graduate in economics and political sciences from the Islamic University of Gaza, said that it would be a historic day to end the decade-long division on political and social levels.
“Those who have lost family members will never forget but we hope that they will forgive for this reconciliation to stand a chance,” AbuShanab said.
“However, let’s not get our hopes too high. Throughout the last decade we have witnessed Palestinian reconciliation attempts sponsored by different parties, but none of them paid its efforts. Despite the positive measures taken by both Palestinian sides of the division, we are still doubting its success,” he added.
“If all goes to plan, I expect a huge change starting from creating new jobs to increases in exports and imports. We will be witnessing a new paradigm of a Palestinian ruling system which takes actual steps towards improving the standard of living in the Gaza Strip,” continued AbuShanab.
In September, Hamas agreed to disband its shadow government and accepted a Fatah call for elections in Gaza and the West Bank. Analysts said the Hamas shift reflected pressure from Israel and Abbas.
The Chairman of the Association of the Palestinian Community in the UK (APC UK) Rajab Shamallakh, this writer’s father, expressed optimism towards the reconciliation.
“Gaza faced hard-hitting economic steps imposed by Mahmoud Abbas, such as electricity cuts, which reduced the daily electricity supply to two to four hours a day. The PA also cut salaries for its employees in Gaza,” he said.
“The unification of Hamas and Fatah will pave the way for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and the improvement of living conditions hampered by the Israeli and Egyptian blockade and Israeli bombardments.
“These reconciliation efforts will give hope for the opening of the borders. Abbas could counter Israel’s argument that it does not have a negotiating partner for peace with the Palestinians.”
However, many Gazans are sceptical about reconciliation.
“I am not very optimistic and I cannot say much before I see how this so-called reconciliation is translated on the ground. People are fed up,” said Shahd Abusalama, a doctoral candidate at Sheffield Hallam University.
“Of course, a united government is good. However, I am worried about the shape of this united government and if it will bring any good. Would this good be shared or limited to certain groups or people with contacts? What is their stance when it comes not only to people’s basic needs but also our struggle? Will de facto security coordination continue? There are still a lot of unclear issues. For me, it is beyond easing the siege on Gaza.”
While serious obstacles threaten any agreement between the two factions, Hamdallah stressed the importance of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah if the Palestinians were to confront Israel effectively.
Gaza resident Essa Kamal, 22, said he was optimistic despite previous failed reconciliation attempts. He said the humanitarian situation in Gaza is catastrophic and Hamas cannot help the Gazans nor itself.
“This reconciliation means everything, as everything is literally hanging by a straw. Unemployment rates have increased massively and there is a crucial shortage of medical supplies in Gaza,” he said.
“If the reconciliation goes to plan, more than 75,000 humanitarian cases will be able to travel, more than 2 million people will enjoy their day with more than four hours of electricity, and construction and raw materials will enter Gaza.”
Over the past decade, Gaza has fallen deeper into poverty, witnessed three devastating wars and suffered from a joint Israeli- Egyptian blockade. Many obstacles lie ahead and the nature of the reconciliation is yet to be determined. While a unity government is just a step, it is a very important one.
Razan Shamallakh is a master’s degree candidate in Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies at King’s College London.
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