Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have officially agreed deal for unity government. They overcame last-minute squabbles to form the new government of national unity, backed by all Palestinians in the besieged city of Gaza and the West Bank.
The announcement of the transitional government represents a significant step toward ending a seven-year feud between the political factions that only benefitted Israel.
The comprehensive deal would turn over the civil administration of Gaza immediately to officials of a unity government. The agreement, negotiated in Cairo, is designed to ease the illegal blockade of Gaza by Israel and Egypt, and open the way to reconstruction of the war-ravaged coastal entity, reportedly to cost $7.8 billion following this summer’s 50-day Israeli war on Gaza.
The historic agreement would allow the Palestinian Authority to take control over the border crossings of the Gaza Strip, including the crucial Rafah Crossing into Egypt. Palestinian Authority security forces would also control the Philadelphia Corridor, a key strip adjoining the border with Egypt. The ultimate goal is for the officials from the rival factions to try to overcome their differences and strengthen their hand for talks with Israel slated for next month.
The agreement was crucial to present a unified strategy during talks with Israeli negotiators due in October. Those talks, under Egyptian mediation, are aimed at reaching a durable ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians after the Gaza war.
In any case, the announcement of a consensus government is both cause for celebration and skepticism. It is a significant achievement in its own right, but also because it sets this latest agreement apart from previous, stillborn attempts at reconciliation between the two dominant factions.
The first hurdle in the national unity deal has been overcome, but monumental challenges lie ahead. Implementation will only get harder from here on, hence the cause for skepticism amid the celebration.
The years of mutual distrust mean that the deal could still easily collapse, as has happened before. Furthermore, there are major questions for which the formation of a unity government does not provide answers:
How will the Gaza Strip and the West Bank become a single territorial entity again, as they were supposed to be under the Oslo accords? Even with the best of Palestinian intentions, Israel holds the cards in this regard, and it has already shown its hand. It barred three of the new government’s Gaza-based ministers from travelling to the West Bank to attend the swearing-in ceremony.
This highlights the stark irony of a national unity government that is physically and geographically divided. This bodes ill for its effective functioning, since almost a third of its ministers are based in Gaza, and Israel retains full control over who can travel from one Palestinian territory to another.
Given these restrictions, it is difficult to see how Hamas will be able to incorporate Fatah-led Palestinian Authority forces in Gaza, and how this will be reciprocated in the West Bank, as is stipulated by the unity deal.
Indeed, all the odds are stacked against the unity government, yet it remains the best option for both Fatah and Hamas to move forward. Given the expected failure of negotiations with Israel and the dire situation in Gaza, each movement must respond to the mounting expectations on the streets.
A unity government that would make headway toward Palestinian elections, which have not taken place since 2006, is the only way to restore the public’s faith in the new leadership.
Despite Israeli hurdles and pressures, the Palestinian factions managed to forge unity. Now the political class must join forces to pave the way for new elections and prove to their own people and the international community that they also have what it takes to establish the independent State of Palestine, with Al-Quds as their rightful capital.