x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Hamas's crisis of leadership is terrible timing

A Palestinian election, one of the conditions of the Cairo-brokered peace agreement inked last year, is a necessity if any sort of unity is to be achieved. But it must not happen behind closed doors.

Palestinian politics continue to be shrouded in secrecy. The reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah signed in Cairo last May is in danger of collapsing; elections are nowhere in sight; and reports of internal conflicts in both camps continue to emerge.

On Wednesday, a Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, denied that a secret election in Gaza had installed the party's Prime Minister Ismail Haniya as the new head of the group's Gaza bureau. Speculation, however, is unlikely to disappear after Mr Barhoum declined to comment further on the alleged vote, which the Israeli daily Haaretz reported had taken place in the past two weeks.

The news is also likely to increase tensions between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, led by Fatah, in the West Bank. Hamas, having closed its offices in Damascus as a reaction against Bashar Al Assad's brutal suppression of Syria's opposition movement, is in the midst of a power struggle. With party leader Khaled Meshaal supposedly stepping down, there is a danger that the progress that the party has made moving away from armed resistance and towards a policy of non-violence will be checked if Hamas hardliners reclaim power. The consequences for Palestinian unity could be disastrous.

Palestinian tensions continue to play into the hands of Benjamin Netanyahu's government - the longer the parties bicker, the easier it is for Israeli settlements to continue being built. As The National's columnist Alan Philps notes on the facing page, continued settlement building is making the two-state solution a rapidly diminishing possibility.

Fatah, for its part, is complicit in the continuing distrust between the two parties and the failure to represent the genuine interests of the Palestinian people. President Mahmoud Abbas's mandate ended more than three years ago, yet he stays in office and refuses to test his party in an election, even if it would have to be limited to the West Bank.

A Palestinian election, one of the conditions of the Cairo-brokered agreement, is a necessity if any sort of unity is to be achieved, and peace and mobilisation on the street is to return to both Gaza and the West Bank. Above all, the move towards an independent Palestinian state is all but impossible as long as the divide between the two parties persists.

As ever, it is the Palestinian people who continue to suffer. Unity and a commitment to non-violent resistance must be reaffirmed urgently; Hamas and Fatah owe that to their people at the very least. It is the people themselves who should choose their leaders, not some shadowy cabal of senior apparatchiks in a secret election.