Walid Salem - Center for Democracy and Community Development, Jerusalem

With the current paralysis in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process–which is due to the Israeli government’s refusal to abide by its obligations under previously signed agreements, notably the roadmap–it might at first glance seem strange to ask what are the ramifications of Palestinian unity for Palestinian-Israeli relations.

But this is an Israeli government that tries to cover its anti-peace position by claiming that the Palestinian leadership under President Mahmoud Abbas has little domestic legitimacy because of the Palestinian division. Thus, Israeli government officials argue, this leadership cannot guarantee, and will not be able to implement, any agreement if achieved with Israel, and will be unable to deliver security for both Israelis and Palestinians.

With this justification not to move forward, the Palestinian division might look like a bad thing for a successful peace process. But is that so?

A better answer may be found if we reverse the question: what would the Israeli position be in case of Palestinian unity. The answer is readily available: any unity government that includes both Fateh and Hamas would be boycotted by Israel, as happened with the previous unity government in 2006. The ramifications of such unity and resulting boycott would thus be almost zero. There is no peace process for Palestinian unity to affect.

Yet, one may still ask: should Palestinians attempt to reconcile along the lines of the agreement in 2006 that would bring back the international boycott of such a government?

It is clear that this is the calculation informing Abbas, who does not want to see the establishment of a Palestinian government that is boycotted by the international community. The reason Fateh signed the Egyptian reconciliation agreement is that it allowed Fateh and Hamas to continue to disagree politically while setting a date for elections. In other words, Fateh and Hamas would agree to disagree and resolve to let the Palestinian people have their say on the political issues dividing the factions.

Between a reconciliation agreement that brings back an international boycott and no reconciliation, which will not be accepted by the Palestinian, Arab, and Islamic publics, Abbas selected a third path. The Egyptian proposal appears to accept this position, since it will not put Abbas in confrontation with the international community, nor will it create more complications in the already very complex relationship with the current Israeli government.

Hamas, however, has not yet approved the Egyptian proposal. Anticipating this, Abbas has called for elections on January 24, based on full proportional representation and including Gazans living in the West Bank. What will be the ramifications of this on the peace process?

If the current Israeli government continues to refuse to live up to its responsibilities under previous agreements, then it will be apathetic toward this development and will do nothing to sustain Abbas with achievements toward ending the occupation that could lead to an increase in his popularity among Palestinians. Therefore one can foresee that Abbas’ Fateh party will win such elections only because Hamas boycotts them as illegitimate. At the same time, Abbas will lose a majority of public support because he cannot show progress toward ending the occupation. There will be an elected government, but without real and crucial public support.

It might be concluded therefore that the reconciliation process is not the deciding factor for the success of the peace process. Rather, the opposite is true: a successful peace process is a deciding factor for achieving Palestinian reconciliation that strengthens those who believe in peace with Israel.

In 2006, the international community considered Palestinian division more favorable for the peace process than Palestinian reconciliation. But that was before the election of the current Israeli government, which does not want to progress on the peace process based on previous agreements. Therefore, the task today is one of pressuring for the creation of a successful peace process by, among other things, pushing Israel to cease its settlement construction in occupied territory. This, in turn, will create the basis for Palestinian reconciliation that is not against peace with Israel.


Walid Salem is director of the Center for Democracy and Community Development and a member of the PLO’s Palestinian National Council.


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 2 Nov 2009.

Anticopyright: Editorials and articles originated on TMS may be freely reprinted, disseminated, translated and used as background material, provided an acknowledgement and link to the source, TMS: A PALESTINIAN VIEW: PALESTINIAN RECONCILIATION AND THE PEACE PROCESS, is included. Thank you.

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