Developing apart

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There are several reasons to believe that the chance of success for the Palestinian unity dialogue now is very small, if not non-existent.

The Egyptian-led mediation effort has now seen three rounds of meetings, sometimes involving all 13 Palestinian factions, sometimes between only the two main rivals, Fateh and Hamas. None has been successful. It can be argued that the division in the Palestinian polity that resulted from the violent competition between Fateh and Hamas for power has reached an irreversible point, at least in the short and medium terms.

One of the main indications of this is the nature of the latest Egyptian proposal, presented to Fateh and Hamas in the last meeting in Cairo between Ahmed Qurei and Musa Abu Marzouq. The Egyptians proposed to keep the two de facto governments in Gaza and the West Bank and create a new body to coordinate activities between them.

The proposal seems to admit the impossibility of forming a national unity government. The nature of the responses it elicited was also telling.

Hamas responded with two questions: what would be the status of Ismail Haniyeh’s government and who would compose the West Bank government. Fateh responded with two other questions: to whom would such a supervisory committee report to and what would be the terms of reference of its work.

Together, the proposal and the questions betray willingness by Cairo, Hamas and Fateh to live with the current division, even institutionalize it, leaving analysts to conclude that the main players are giving up on the possibility of national reconciliation.

In trying to understand the situation and any future potential for reconciliation it is important to understand the difference in the realities of the West Bank and Gaza. Both areas are under Israeli occupation, but in the West Bank the Israeli army is operating throughout Palestinian areas, including in densely populated cities and towns. Israel fully controls the land, the expansion of settlements and settlement infrastructure and other infrastructure such as water, electricity and road networks, as well as the separation wall. While Israel keeps the Gaza Strip under a comprehensive siege of its air, land and water boundaries, within the Strip Hamas exercises full control.

This asymmetry between the two parts of the future Palestinian state makes it very difficult in practice to return to one system and authority. This will lead to Gaza gradually shifting its dependency from Israel to other Arab and regional countries, especially its only other neighbor, Egypt. Taking into consideration the fact that Gaza is not economically viable on its own, we shall witness a continuation of the present economic deterioration there for a long time to come.

The West Bank, meanwhile, will develop in a different direction. There will be a declining level of interaction with Gaza while the current functional division between Israel–which is maintaining its security role in addition to controlling the land and its resources–and the Palestinian Authority, which is left as a de facto services provider in areas such as health and education, will continue within the overall framework of occupation.

That might serve the immediate Israeli goals of avoiding giving up control of the West Bank, and may divert international pressure from Israel. However, it will not serve the long-terms objectives of peace and security, because a two-state solution is a pre-condition for those objectives to become a reality.

The international community, which long ago agreed that the only way to make peace is through the emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, is required to contribute to reversing two trends. First, international players need to help bridge the division between the two parts of occupied Palestinian territory by encouraging reconciliation between Fateh and Hamas.

Second, the international community must work to reverse the Israeli colonization of the West Bank by forcing Israel to adhere to international legality. If this does not happen soon, it will be impossible for a Palestinian state to emerge.

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