Put simply, Palestinian unity strikes fear in the hearts of Israeli strategists and military planners. A unified Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza which adopts nonviolent resistance tactics has the potential to inflict incredible damage on the Israeli occupation. Actually, Israel does not have an effective strategy to combat Palestinian nonviolence and unity. Look at the amount of military resources Israel have used to crush small West Bank villages like Nabi Saleh, which embrace unity and nonviolence against occupation. The agreement signed last night between Fatah and Hamas does not represent unity. The reconciliation agreement represents a move to appease growing popular movements on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank which are demanding real unity, one that might not even involve the PA and Hamas, in order to combat Israeli occupation.
At the heart of the problem of unity is the Palestinian Authority. After Israel firmly crushed the nonviolence of the first Intifada, the state employed a tested and true method of colonial control during the peace processes of the 1990’s, the formation of a small and wealthy elite which could act as an arm of the occupation itself. Through the creation of the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the international aid which supports it helped establish an elite class which ruled the Palestinians from inside the occupation. As years of endless negotiations dragged on, it has become clear that the Palestinian Authority is not connected to the people. Given the aid structure and relations with the Israeli government, the PA has remained the sole recognized leadership of the Palestinians in the international community.
Following the colonial principle of sowing division to stop resistance, which worked well but ultimately failed for the Apartheid South African government, Israel funded various Palestinian groups in the 1980’s that it felt could challenge the PLO‘s legitimacy among Palestinians and undermine support for the PLO. One such group was Hamas.
The policy has so far worked for Israel. Over the past five years, there has been a relatively quiet status quo while the government has maintained and expanded its military occupation of Palestinian land. Israeli leaders have also continued to lie to the world about their intentions in the occupied territories with no abandon. The seemingly endless peace negotiations receive media attention while Israeli intransigence goes unpunished by the United States or international community.
All of a sudden the Egyptian and Tunisian revolution began to ignite new popular sentiments in Palestine which materialized in a call for national unity. In light of the revolutions and the Palestine Papers, the Palestinian Authority is now franticly trying to maintain what little control they have on the Palestinian street. The reality is that the PA has been mostly discredited by Palestinians as their legitimate representative. It is largely perceived as an instrument of Israeli occupation which does not work in the interest of the Palestinian people in the West Bank, Gaza and the diaspora.
That brings us finally to the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement. In solid political reality, the agreement means very little. Elections will not be held in the near future and the types of elections that will take place have not even been laid out. The agreement, however, shows that the voice of Palestinian civil society is heard by the leadership in the West Bank and Gaza. Afraid for its survival in a revolutionary climate, the PA and Hamas are taking pre-emptive measure to co-opt popular sentiment to ensure their continued governance.
There are so many factors in the air—Palestinian statehood, increasing international isolation of Israel, continued revolution in Syria—which make this reconciliation agreement meaningless because of its lack of concrete action. Therefore, it is reckless to project how Israel will interact with a unified Palestinian leadership because the likelihood of one is small. We ought to think about what Palestinian unity and nonviolence means for Israel, her occupation and international standing. Israel, the PA and Hamas are all scared of the revolutionary sentiment brewing on the Palestinian street. This unity agreement does not address that sentiment.