Hasan Abu Nimah
FOR the last 10 years, the split in the Palestinian leadership structure has been primarily blamed for the extended stagnation of, indeed the retreat in, the Palestinian performance altogether.
Unless and until the Palestinian factions drop their differences and unite their efforts in fighting for their cause, many observers believed, they will never be able to advance their political liberation agenda.
The reference is obviously to the Hamas and Fateh-led Palestinian Authority (PA) schism; the first is running the Gaza sector while the other is controlling the West Bank.
The division has been deep enough to defy many previous attempts at reconciliation. If the current effort, led by Egypt, is to stand any chance, we will soon find out if Palestinian unity will indeed pave the way for active peace-making diplomacy.
Despite justified hopes, buttressed by evident Egyptian resolve to end the deadlock, it may still be too early to take a credible positive outcome for granted.
There are still deep differences between the two sides. The PA seems to be insisting that the envisaged agreement should not leave any grey areas: one authority, one arsenal, one security apparatus and one policy.
That simply could translate into the disbanding of Hamas, not only as an administrative reality, but as a movement, as an armed resistance force and even as a different political entity.
That might be a heavy price for Hamas to pay no matter how pressing the circumstances that led to submission.
If, on the other hand, the PA, for the sake of facilitating the reconciliation process, shows some flexibility towards Hamas, even if face saving and symbolic, Israel can be expected to step in to sabotage the whole deal.
But if with much optimism the effort will succeed in uniting the Palestinians as never before, if there are successful elections with promising results, will the peace machine start rolling again?
Let us hope so. Undoubtedly, a renewed Palestinian leadership, legitimised by credible elections, would have far better opportunities to present the Palestinian cause in a much more efficient manner to the world, including international organisations.
At least, such an eventuality would remove the pretext that Palestinian divisions, and such divisions alone, were responsible for the stagnation.
The reality is that they were not. In no way was the Hamas-PA split responsible for the ongoing stagnation. It was abnormal, wrong, crippling in many ways, bad for the Palestinians in both areas, but it was not responsible for distancing peace.
Peace has been out of reach, because of the continued occupation that the Israeli leaders say is there to stay.
Israel does not even admit that occupation exists. The land the Palestinians seek to liberate as their own, for the Israelis, the current Israeli administration in particular, belongs to the Jewish people and they want the Palestinians to recognise it as the land of the Jewish people rather than claim it back.
In addition to the half-a-century-old occupation, the continued construction of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian and Arab territories is evident proof that Israel is not considering an end to its illegal occupation.
Hardly a week passes by without the Israeli government announcing a plan for building thousands of Jewish housing units in the West Bank and around Jerusalem on occupied Palestinian land; the latest such plan announced earlier this week.
Will Palestinian unity change any of that? Will Israel agree to sit with representatives of one, united, Palestinian leadership to discuss the removal of the occupation, the dismantling of the settlements, the recognition of the Palestinian right to statehood and independence?
That is hard to imagine. Obviously, the great advantage of the much hoped-for Palestinian unity is not to prove that it was not the real obstacle in the way of peace. It is significant for many other essential reasons.
It should be support for a right cause, and the sides should show maximum flexibility to make it happen; not just as a marriage of convenience, but as a genuine reconciliation based on agreement on the basic components of the Palestinian case.