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Interview 'We have to explore this last chance of unity'

Ben Cowles speaks with AKEL TAQZ on the possibility of a rapprochement between Hamas and Fatah

IN THE aftermath of the Battle of Gaza ten years ago, the Palestinian people in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have been ruled by two separate factions.

In Gaza, the people there have been living under the control of the Islamist party Hamas, while in the West Bank the nationalist party Fatah has retained control.

There have been many attempts at reconciliation between the two factions in the years since the split but all have come to no avail.

Recently, however, the two sides have made attempts at a rapprochement before the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) national congress in September and the United Nations general assembly.

I spoke with Akel Taqz, the international secretary of the socialist Palestinian People’s Party’s (PPP), to find out his perspective on the possibility of Hamas and Fatah building unity.

“Because the Palestinian people have witnessed this many times in the past, in Doha, in Mecca, in Cairo, in Sana’a and many other places,” Taqz laments, “here in Palestine, the hope is minimal that something serious will happen this time.”

Why, I ask, are the Palestinians’ hopes so low?

Taqz replies: “The experience of these meetings through the last 10 years has always been negative. You hear good words from both sides but no practical steps have been taken forward.”

If only the issue were solely in the hands of Fatah, Hamas and the Palestinian people themselves, things might be somewhat simpler. But, of course, as Taqz explains, “there is also interference from many sides in the region and internationally.”

“Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, Iran, all of them have their agendas and influence in Palestinian internal affairs. Israel and the United States don’t want reconciliation and unity because it is in their favour for the Palestinians to remain divided for their policies and plans for the Middle East.

“The PPP believes that there is some possibility for reconciliation. We have to explore this last chance for unity before going to the the National Council later in September, so we can go to the UN united.”

Not only are both sides under immense pressure from powerful outside influences but their paths to liberation are mutually exclusive.

Hamas aims, in theory, to retake control of the entirety of historic Palestine – including all of what is now Israel – whereas Fatah accepts the two-state solution but demands that Israel move its borders back to the ones outlined by the 1948 UN resolution.

So, I ask Taqz, in his mind, what does each side want from this possible chance at unity?

“From its beginning, Hamas’s plan was to create an Islamic state in Gaza.” He explains that Hamas hoped the rise of Islamist forces in Tunisia, Egypt and Syria during the so-called “Arab Spring” would tip the power balance in the region in its favour.

“But as you know, the Islamist forces are not in the best situation in Syria, in Egypt and Tunisia and because of that this plan has stopped.

“But Hamas hasn’t lost hope that, with some improvement with Egypt, with some co-operation with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and with Turkey, it can keep control of Gaza.”

What Fatah wants, Taqz tells me, is to regain its place in the leading position in the Palestinian government and for its leader and PA President Mahmoud Abbas to be able to represent and speak on behalf of all Palestinian people.

“It will be very positive for Fatah. Abbas could request from the international community to take up their responsibility to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine, which is recognised as a state under occupation, and to demand that Israel state where its borders are.

“Israel has been recognised since 1948 as a member of the UN, but without a map, without a fixed border. And every day, it is trying to widen the borders and to control more and more Palestinian land.

“Abbas wants Hamas to give the control of Gaza to the government, but the problem is that they will not leave Gaza without a price.”

Another, rather large, problem for Fatah is US President Donald Trump, who, Taqz says, “has given no signs that he is serious about the Middle East.”

“The Palestinians have lost all hope that the United States will play any positive role here. Through the past 20 to 25 years — from the Oslo Agreement and up to now — the United States hasn’t worked to solve the problem but to manage it.”

The US, he believes, wants the two sides to reach an agreement not through the implementation of international law, the international community or UN resolutions but “through negotiations and agreements between two sides, knowing that the balance of power between the Palestinian side and Israel is very unequal.”

Any attempt at a rapprochement between the two sides is clearly going to be an enormous uphill struggle. But Taqz does not give way to defeatism.

Instead, he talks about the power of solidarity and how this can push governments around the world to take up a more positive and effective position on Palestine.

“Solidarity with the Palestinian people is very important. It has to come from every organisation and every party in every country.

“That would put pressure on governments around the world to support the legitimate right of the Palestinian people for independence and the implementation of the UN resolutions.

“The solution to issues in the Middle East has to be through dialogue, and respect for the will of the people to decide their leadership and their future for themselves, without any foreign intervention. If not, then the region and the world will always be in conflict.”

Akel Taqs is the  the international secretary of the Palestinian People’s Party. Ben Cowles is the Morning Star’s deputy features editor.

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