x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Palestinian unity talks must result in real action

This time, both Hamas and Fatah must stick to their promises for serious negotiations.

As Palestinians commemorated the Nakba this week, 65 years since they were dispossessed from large parts of their ancestral homeland, their leaders once again vowed to form a government of national unity.

Understandably, the news of renewed Fatah-Hamas detente was greeted with no little cynicism. Just as with their Nakba commemorations, the Palestinians have been here before.

In 2008, an accord signed by Fatah and Hamas in Yemen was intended to end the fractious relationship that had existed between the two main Palestinian organisations since the 2006 election. It failed.

This month marked two years since a replacement reconciliation agreement was signed in Cairo. After it failed, it was replaced by what was known as the Doha deal in early 2012. But that too came to nothing.

Now after signs of rapprochement, including Fatah and Hamas being able to hold rallies in Gaza and the West Bank respectively, the two parties have once again announced their plan to form a unity government within three months.

Not even many Palestinians are buying it this time. As one Nakba observer told The National yesterday: "Our leaders are leaders who only use empty words. The revolution is dead and so is the two-state solution."

Many will share in the cynicism, but despite all the reasons to be doubtful that things are different now, maybe the sands really are shifting.

The region has been affected by a different dynamic since the uprisings of the Arab Spring, and now Egypt is pushing harder than ever for the Palestinian parties to act in unison to improve the lot of their people. The talks that led to the latest announcement were hosted in Cairo.

Israel also finds itself in a less dominant position than it was only a few years ago, demonstrated by its preoccupation with the Syrian war.

While the United States remains its most unquestioning ally, Israel is becoming the subject of increasingly strident and organised criticism from Europe as the slow atrophy of the two-state solution prompts comparisons between Israeli policies and those of apartheid-era South Africa. Meanwhile, boycotts of Israeli products and academic institutions are sending an economic message. Even the normally apolitical Stephen Hawking has supported a boycott.

That back story explains the different tenor to the latest news of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. And it suggests that while it may be naively optimistic to hope, perhaps this time both sides will recognise the power they would have if united.

Yet words and wishes won't change the cynicism of many Palestinians. It's time for the promises to be backed by serious negotiations, then action.