21 May 2012
By Pinhas Inbari
Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter in response to an earlier message from PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas. It was expected that the PLO would announce the resumption of its unilateral bid for statehood immediately following its receipt. However, thus far there has been no sign of movement on the Palestinian side. Instead, the PLO has launched a series of surprising moves that have resulted in the probable de facto end to the reconciliation process between Gaza and Ramallah.
In the first of a series of moves, the acting Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (pictured above on the left) was again sworn in by Abbas as Palestinian Authority premier. Previously, Fayyad’s re-appointment to the position was stalled due to the reconciliation efforts and Hamas’ objections to Fayyad candidacy. Furthermore, the Doha agreement between Hamas and the PLO specified Mahmoud Abbas as the unity government’s prime minister, not Fayyad. His continued service is an indication of the end to the unity aspirations.
In another move, the PLO decided to hold municipal elections only in the West Bank, thereby forgoing Hamas’ approval and elections in Gaza. The PLO already tried to hold municipal elections prior to the UN statehood bid but put a stop the process abruptly when elections for the Nablus Bureau of Commerce showed that Fatah’s list lost the campaign to an independent. Lately, however, Fatah lists had won a series of elections in West Bank universities, which encouraged Fatah to exploit the momentum and try to recapture West Bank municipalities.
For its part, Hamas said that the university elections were manipulated by Palestinian Authority secret services, thus implying that the municipal elections would be tampered with as well. Yet, despite Hamas’ objections, Fatah does not believe that Hamas will put up a real fight due to its preoccupation with its local Shura elections.
The simultaneous election process in the West Bank and Gaza only serves to amplify the understanding that the Palestinians are solidifying their two separate power bases: Fatah-ruled West Bank and Hamas-ruled Gaza. Hamas’ leadership in Gaza has not permitted that Shura elections be held in the West Bank.
Prominent Gazan leaders have opposed the Doha reconciliation agreement, arguing privately that Hamas has no interest in the West Bank. Therefore, the Fatah leadership in Ramallah may conclude that as long as Ramallah does not aspire to reconquer Gaza, Hamas will leave Fatah alone and not challenge its prominence in the West Bank.
The fracture between the West Bank and Gaza was also evident when a senior Hamas official in Gaza, Mahmoud al-Zahar, unexpectedly stated that he would vote for an Islamist candidate in the upcoming Egyptian presidential elections. Zahar’s statement reflects Gaza’s reorientation toward Egypt and away from the West Bank.
Recent actions notwithstanding, the Palestinians may still apply unilaterally to the United Nations in order to achieve statehood. In the past, analysts concurred that the Palestinians would avoid approaching the UN General Assembly, because its acceptance of a Palestinian state would come at the expense of the PLO and the representation of those Palestinian refugees who do not reside in the West Bank.
While the refugees remain a strong motivator, the Palestinians may still decide to approach the UN General Assembly in order not to lose relevance and remain in the headlines in the run-up to the US presidential elections in November. In their view, this would keep the Palestinian issue on President Barack Obama’s agenda, should he be reelected.
On Sunday, Hamas and Fatah declared in Cairo that they were moving along with the reconciliation process despite recent hurdles. Hamas underscored the seriousness of its intentions by forgoing some of its previous demands. However, the two sides may have already gone past the point of no return, rendering the latest reconciliation attempt moot.
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