I felt rather apprehensive upon receiving an invitation to attend the meeting in Cairo held on February 8-9 for the purpose of unifying and vitalising the functions of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
I was reluctant as to whether I should attend, since the previous top leadership meetings failed to bring about long-anticipated Palestinian unity and reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, which all Palestinians demand, especially at a time when the Palestinian cause is facing its severest test at the local, regional and international levels.
Along this line, Palestinian reconciliation becomes an absolute must. It should be our first priority to unify the Palestinian movement that is literally facing the colonial/apartheid Israeli bulldozer to eradicate it from existence. Palestinians have absolutely no choice.
It was a self-destructive choice to stay disunited all this time. Indeed, my feeling of apprehension stemmed from my past experience of two leadership meetings where participants faced external as well as internal pressures that opposed any reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.
Such pressures consequently keep the Palestinian situation in limbo and allow Israel all the time it needs to complete its Judaisation of all of historical Palestine while also manipulating the state of disunity between the ‘two authorities’ (in the West Bank and in Gaza Strip) to avoid pressures to reach a just settlement with the Palestinians.
Israel is naturally willing to keep ‘the two authorities’ in place, forever, in order to confine the Palestinian aspiration for a viable independent state within the narrow boundaries of two ‘municipalities’ whose normal tasks are to manage the general non-political affairs of its citizens.
Again, the outside forces were bound to succeed with each of the factions acting with narrow-mindedness to protect its ‘tribal’ privileges and self interest above the Palestinian national interest.
Thus, ending the Palestinian division and opting for the national unity took another turn in a process where a ‘tribal’ resolution was sought to enable each party to maintain its independence regardless of the prohibitive cost to the national Palestinian security and interest.
This is how things turned out after the two previous meetings, in spite of great efforts made by independents along with conscientious individuals from other Palestinian organisations including the main factions in conflict.
Immediately after the third meeting, Dr Maher Al Taher of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) stressed the basic demand for an end to division and disunity by singling out the need for “more face-to-face meetings, listening directly to each other, contributing to achievement of more understanding which brings us closer to one another to attain a final resolution”. President Mahmoud Abbas was in full agreement and promised “to call for more meetings in which the various factions of the Palestinian leadership can gather to address all the issues in details”. It is important to note the positive contribution to the meeting made by very able Palestinian personalities of high intellect including Bassam Al Salhi on behalf of the Palestinian People Party and Dr Mustafa Al Barghouti, secretary of the Palestinian National Initiative, who both concentrated on the national Palestinian struggle whose only agenda is the national Palestinian security.
The contribution by Shaikh Ramadan Abdullah Shalah of the Islamic Jihad Movement was a significant factor in the ongoing process to reach a permanent resolution to the disunity between Fatah and Hamas.
Indeed, the much warmer atmosphere among the various factions in this third meeting managed to allay my feelings of concern as we witnessed a semi-fertile soil being created to plant seeds of conciliation and eventually an end to the divisions. The meeting’s final declaration stressed “the necessity to hold on time Palestinian presidential, legislative and National Council elections according to specific dates to be set after careful preparation to ensure their success”, but as the saying goes: The devil lies in the details! We have witnessed in the past many agreements dishonoured with endless meetings discussing irrelevant issues such as ‘the gender of angels’ while the colonial Zionist occupation builds more and more colonies in the Occupied Territories with impunity.
A second assertion made during the meeting was the need for “consultations to form a government of Palestinian technocrats endorsed by all and presided over by the Palestinian President”. Another call was issued “supporting the popular national struggle and resistance in all the Occupied Territories”. If such words are not turned into deeds, our dreams and national aspirations would be shattered in such a way that will surely please our enemies and sadden our friends and allies. This is why it is our hope that this Palestinian meeting will set the very foundation for a new Palestinian movement capable of standing up to severe storms unleashed by a cruel colonial/apartheid occupation that views historical Palestine as a land without a single Palestinian on its soil. This Palestinian movement can only be strengthened by empowering the Palestinian people through solid ties among their civil society groups and labour unions holding on to the Palestinian citizenship regardless of tribal or ethnic origins, party association or creed.
Finally, it is worthy to note the extraordinary support extended by Egypt which showed keen interest to see an end for good of all aspects contributing to the disunity of Palestinians at a time when their very unity is urgently needed.
Professor As’ad Abdul Rahman is the chairman of the Palestinian Encyclopaedia.