The two most influential Palestinian political organizations-Fatah and Hamas-signed an agreement on March 23 to resume their reconciliation negotiations in April. But they did not reach a consensus on carrying out the Yemen Initiative proposed by Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh that calls for them to end their dispute and sign a peace agreement. The reason that the two parties could sit together and talk was because Arab countries, especially Yemen, mediated the discussions. Previously, at Saleh's invitation, the two parties had negotiated for five days in the Yemeni capital Sanaa and agreed to start the reconciliation process once again.
A fight between brothers
Many parties and organizations have appeared in Palestine during the past half-century, as the Palestinians have fought for their nation's independence and liberation. In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was established in Jerusalem. Because the PLO intended to represent all Palestinians' wishes, most of Palestine's resistance organizations joined it at the time. Yasser Arafat became the head of the PLO and united the resistance organizations and other parties under it.
Although all the resistance groups had the same goal of fighting for the independence of the Palestinians, their methods and strategies were different. They rarely coordinated or cooperated with each other, and disputes and conflicts broke out among them from time to time, greatly weakening the PLO's strength and reputation.
Hamas was never part of the PLO and instead has remained an independent political group. Established in 1988, Hamas has a strong religious sense. It takes a hard-line stance on resisting Israel and pays more attention to social relief work, thus winning wide support among ordinary people. Hamas also refuses to acknowledge Israel and does not accept the 1993 Oslo Agreement, signed by Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in the United States.
Fatah, formed in 1957, has stuck to its goal of realizing the nation's liberation through political means, based on a realist stance and policy. It dominates the leadership of the PLO and is considered the PLO's mainstream organization.
In early 2006, Hamas won the parliamentary elections and came into power. It invited Fatah to form a joint government, but the latter refused. Ismail Haneya from Hamas became prime minister, while Fatah leader Mohammed Abbas remained president. Then conflicts between them grew more severe, resulting in bloodshed.
Although the two parties set up a joint government in March 2007, their disputes never ceased. In June 2007, a Hamas-led military group defeated Fatah's security group and got control of the Gaza Strip. Fatah had to withdraw to the West Bank. Abbas dismissed the joint government and military organization under Hamas' leadership as an illegal organization. He then appointed another prime minister for his emergency government. The separation of the joint government greatly weakened the Palestinians' political foundation and caused social disorder. At least 100 people were killed because of armed conflicts between the two parties.
The situation hurt both Hamas and Fatah. Hamas has become more isolated, because of the political and economic blockades it is enduring. Fatah, which is supported by Israel, the European Union and the United States, has been losing the Palestinian people's support, because it has lost the Gaza Strip.
In the meantime, their disputes have made Palestinians' lives more miserable. Therefore, the two sides decided to restart their reconciliation negotiations after precisely analyzing the situation and starting to adjust their policies, while the international community tried to mediate between them.
The basis of independence
The Yemen Initiative mainly calls for a return to the situation in the Gaza Strip as it was before June 2007, holding an early-date election and reopening the dialogue between the two parties, while emphasizing that Palestine is an inseparable entity. It suggests that the two sides establish a joint government, reorganize Palestinian security troops and end the differences among the Palestinians.
Reconciliation is important to both Fatah and Hamas. For Hamas, the peace negotiations will be a turning point, in which it can get rid of pressures from inside and outside Palestine. If Fatah compromises, Hamas can become a legal organization while making itself stronger. Then it can gather strength for its goal of having a united Palestinian state. Fatah must deal with Hamas seriously because of the latter's growing strength. Fatah hopes to include Hamas under its own leadership after making small compromises. In this way, it not only can restrict Hamas and strengthen the PLO, but also can end the separation of the Palestinians.
Disputes between Fatah and Hamas arose not only because of their different political ideas, but also because they fought against each other with accumulated rancor over power and other interests.
Although they have agreed to sit down and talk, it will not be easy for the two parties to make a deal to reshuffle their power distribution, military strength, territory and interests. Furthermore, the Israeli side has warned Abbas not to cooperate with Hamas, and has said if Fatah does so, it will lose everything. Based on these actions, the prospect for peaceful negotiations between Fatah and Hamas is not very optimistic.
Once Fatah and Hamas reconcile, they will accelerate the political development of Palestine as an independent state, push the Middle East peace process forward and save Palestinians from endless fighting. If the negotiations fail, the nation will be stuck in the misery caused by civil war. Unity is the only way out for the Palestinians. Negotiation is the first step toward unity, and there should be many steps following unity.
Price of peace
If today's generation must pay a price for peace, they will win a bright and peaceful future for their successors. Therefore, both the Israelis and the Palestinians must think clearly about their decisions.
Although Israel already has secured the survival of its nation, it has not settled its security problem. Some countries in the Middle East refuses to accept Israel, because of the conflicts between the Israelis and the Palestinian. If the Israelis hope to solve the security problem, they must figure out how to coexist with the Palestinians. After that, Israel will have a safe and wide space to develop its social and economic environment.
There is a slight chance that the Palestinians could defeat the Israelis through violence. They know that extremist means draw criticism from the international community. The Palestinians should realize their goal of national liberation through political means as the Arab Peace Initiative passed during the Arab Summit meeting in 2002 suggested.
Before the conflicts between the Israelis and the Palestinians disappear, the two peoples will continue to weep and bleed. It must be mentioned that the Israeli side, which has been stronger in the conflicts, is playing a larger role. To untie this knot, leaders from the two sides need to show courage and wisdom as well as a strong will and strength. In the 1970s, Egyptian and Israeli leaders finally agreed to a truce and then realized peace between them. People can be assured that the Israeli and the Palestinian leaders have enough political wisdom to make this brave but decisive move.
The author is director of the Division of Middle East Studies of Institute of West Asian and African Studies, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences