Palestinians form committee to try to end divisions

Palestinian political leaders decided in Egypt on Sunday to form a committee supposed to end the 17-year-old division of the Occupied Territories, a decision that reflects their “lack of seriousness” for experts. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, leader of Fatah, and the leader of rival Hamas, in power in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, who meet very rarely, had made the trip to El-Alamein, on the northern Egyptian coast.

Around them, leaders of all Palestinian factions were there to discuss the future of the Palestinian issue as Israel is now ruled by the most right-wing government in its history. Only the Islamic Jihad and two micro-parties did not show up, in protest against the “political arrests” of the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas, who sits in Ramallah in the West Bank, a territory occupied since 1967 by Israel.

Ismail Haniyeh, whose Islamist movement leads the Gaza Strip under Israeli blockade, challenged his rival: he said, we must put an end to “security cooperation” with Israel and to “political arrests” in the West Bank. Opposite him, Mahmoud Abbas denounced the bloody clashes which followed the 2006 elections in 2007, won by Hamas but whose results were never recognized either by Fatah or by the international community, the Palestinian president evoking a “Rebellion”.

Seventeen years later, “the division (…) must stop immediately”, launched Mahmoud Abbas. “We must return to a single state, a single system, a single law and a single legitimate army”. For this, he said at the end of a meeting of a few hours, it is necessary “to form a committee to continue the dialogue (…) to end the division and achieve Palestinian national unity “. He also said he hoped “an upcoming meeting in Egypt to announce the end of the division”.

“Little serious”

But for the Gaza political scientist Moukhaimer Abou Saada, the formation of a committee is “not reassuring and shows the lack of seriousness” of the participants. “If you want to kill something, form a committee,” he told AFP. “Forming a committee does not put an end to the division and does not give a date for elections,” he continues. “Faced with a far-right Israeli government, the factions have not taken concrete action.”

The Palestinians have once again demanded a united front from their leaders. Hundreds of Gazans demonstrated in various places in the small, overpopulated and poverty-stricken strip of land to demand an “end to division”, AFP journalists noted. On social networks, others derided the meeting of El-Alamein, whose name means in Arabic “the two flags”. The choice of this city “shows that Fatah and Hamas each have a different flag”, ironically a Gazan surfer. Hamas has called for general elections, which have so far been constantly postponed.

“Redesigning the PLO”

“We must redesign the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)”, the umbrella that oversees all the Palestinian factions with the exception of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and “form a new inclusive Parliament on the basis of ‘free democratic elections’, declared Mr. Haniyeh at the opening of the meeting.

The PLO is “the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”, replied Mahmoud Abbas, urging “peaceful popular resistance” while Hamas calls for “total resistance”.

One of the leaders of Islamic Jihad, Khaled al-Batch, claimed to have “hoped for a reaction from Mahmoud Abbas to the grievances and calls for the release” of members of several factions arrested in the West Bank. But, he continued, “we were surprised by the unprecedented security incursions” of Palestinian forces against Jihad militants.

Violence linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has claimed more than 230 lives since January – at least 203 Palestinians, 27 Israelis, a Ukrainian and an Italian, according to an AFP count established from official sources. In Lebanon, five Fatah soldiers and an Islamist were killed Saturday and Sunday in clashes in the largest Palestinian camp, Aïn el-Héloué, which escapes the authority of the government.

Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati considered this outbreak of violence “suspicious in the current regional and international context”. Palestinian leaders in El-Alamein, however, did not comment on these events.

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