Why True Palestinian Unity Remains Elusive: Palestinians Yet To Achieve National Unity
16 June 2014
By Ramzy Baroud
Palestinians are yet to achieve national unity despite
the elation over the ‘national unity government' now
in operation in Ramallah.
One has to be clear in the distinction between a
Hamas-Fatah political arrangement necessitated by
regional and international circumstances, and
Palestinian unity. What has been agreed upon in the
Shati' (Beach) refugee camp in April, which lead to
the formation of a transitional government in the West
Bank in June, has little to do with Palestinian unity.
The latter is a much more comprehensive and
indispensable notion. Without it, the Palestinian
people risk losing more than a unified political
platform, but their ability to identify with a common
set of national aspirations wherever they are in the
Thus, a hurried agreement in Gaza that left many
points of contention to be discussed and settled by
various sub-committees with uncertain chances of
succeeding is hardly the prerequisite to true and
lasting national unity.
Most media pundits are mixing up between Palestinian
national unity and the ‘unity' government of 14
ministers which were sworn-in in Ramallah. Most of the
supposed technocrats are recognized for their overt or
subtle loyalty to Palestinian Authority (PA) President
Mahmoud Abbas. The transitional government is tasked
with administering areas in the Israeli-occupied West
Bank and Gaza.
The PA is allowed to operate in the West Bank under
the watchful eye of the Israeli army. In return for
allowing the PA a space of operation, PA forces are
involved in ‘security coordination' aimed at securing
illegal Jewish settlements, reigning in Palestinian
resistance and offering a line of defence for the
Israeli army, which in reality is the one and only
ruler of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
It is unclear as of yet how the security coordination
will affect the way Israel controls Gaza, which thus
far has been secured through a hermetic siege
intensified since the Hamas election victory in 2006
and the brief Hamas-Fatah civil war in 2007.
Hamas is unlikely to allow a similar security
coordination arrangement like the one that is underway
in the West Bank, or through which Gaza itself was
controlled - by 10 separate PA security branches -
In fact, Gazan's grew resentful of Fatah - then under
the control of Mohammed Dahlan and a few notorious
Fatah officials - namely because of such practices.
Despite the unity agreement, Abbas still sees
collaboration with the Israeli army as sacred.
But even if some alternative arrangement is found to
prevent another split until the next elections that
are scheduled for early next year, what has taken
place has hardly qualified as unity.
In recent weeks, the word ‘unity' has been used in
many ways, some erroneous and others quite
disingenuous. Hamas and Fatah party officials - all
operating with expired mandates - have repeatedly
infused a more sentimental meaning of ‘unity', with
few exceptions including that of Hamas leader Khaled
Meshaal. The latter, although optimistic about the
future potential of the agreement, understands that
the transitional government is merely a first step in
a long program aimed at the unification of the
Palestinian body politic.
Even the New York Times, known for its resolute
support of successive Israeli governments, is also
urging unity. "If there is ever to be an
Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement … the Palestinians
must be united," read its editorial, signed by the
editorial board, on June 6.
If one evaluates the times vision for Palestinian
unity based on its editorial, one is to discover that
such ‘unity' is mainly aimed at serving the joined
interests of Israel and the United States. "The United
States has to be careful to somehow distinguish
between its support for the new government and an
endorsement of Hamas and its violent, hateful
behaviour .. To have some hope of doing that, the
United States and Europe must continue to insist that
Mr. Abbas stick to his promises and not allow Hamas to
get the upper hand."
The times insists that Hamas cannot play "a more
pronounced role" in the future.
Unity tailored towards Israeli interests and American
funds is hardly what millions of Palestinians have
been wishing for in the last seven years. Needless to
say, ensuring that one party dominates another is
barely a democratic overture.
But Hamas and Fatah are also at fault. Their absurd
infighting and allowing themselves to serve other
parties' agendas is both inexcusable and unforgivable.
To think that both parties will continue to dominate
the Palestinian leadership landscape for the coming
years is not encouraging.
Palestine is not Hamas and Fatah, and Palestinian
disunity didn't start with both of these parties but
has been an integral part of the Palestinian national
struggle. The fragmentation of the Palestinian
political identity is decades-old. It was perhaps the
departure of the Palestine Liberation Organization
(PLO) from Lebanon in 1982 that accentuated the split
between the Palestinian people's struggle for freedom
and their leadership. It was then that Palestinian
elitism truly rose to prominence.
Palestine then was reduced to factions, each with its
own symbols, mantras, slogans, agendas and funders.
The PLO served as a political platform whose sole
purpose, at times, seemed to validate the ruling Fatah
party, and a particular Tunisia-based branch of that
party. The Palestinian parliament in exile - The
Palestinian National Council - was later delegated to
rubber stamp the political initiatives of Yasser
Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, Ahmed Qore and a few others.
The age of Palestinian democracy was mostly over, and
became confined to elections held by Palestinian
political prisoners in Israeli jails and local student
union elections in the occupied territories.
With a self-imposed mandate, unchallenged by any
democratic platform, and validated by the Israeli
occupation, the PA ruled the occupied territories as
it pleased. The rich became richer, and the poor lined
up in front of ATM machines at the end of every month
praying that their salaries made it to their bank
accounts on time. On many occasions, that was not the
On June 5, Hamas and Fatah government employees
scuffled with each other and at times with the police
because Hamas workers didn't get paid, while their
Fatah counterparts did.
This is hardly the kind of scene that would accompany
a state of national unity. For true unity to take
place, it has to be shaped entirely by Palestinian
national priorities. It cannot be linked to aid, and
tribal political allegiances. It should not be aimed
to please the US and the EU or to accommodate Israeli
True unity would have to go back to the original
questions that split Palestinian communities in
Palestine and around the world in the first place. It
has to contend with important questions concerning
Palestinian identity, national aspirations, resistance
and the outlook of an entire generation that was born
after the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993.
Palestinian unity is not a logistical question, but a
major undertaking that requires new faces, new names,
new thinking, and dare one says, a new leadership.
- Ramzy Baroud is the Managing Editor of Middle
East Eye. He is an internationally-syndicated
columnist, a media consultant, an author and the
founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His latest book is
My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story
(Pluto Press, London).