x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Political disunity of Palestinians is a critical failure

As Gaza is hurt by further violence, the postponement of Palestinian elections because of Hamas's stalling tactics makes political leaders complicit in the suffering of their own people.

When it comes to Palestinian politics, every step forward seems inevitably followed by two steps back.

On Friday, a day after Hamas had rejected the idea that it would at any point strike Israel on behalf of Iran, Israeli air strikes on Gaza killed 12 and wounded a dozen others. Hamas once again finds itself on the defensive, both from Israel and from factions within the Occupied Territory.

The party's announcement separating itself from Tehran was seen as further evidence that it is realigning itself with the Palestinian Authority's approach to non-violent resistance. But now it seems that the fragile unity agreement signed between the two rivals in Cairo last year is once again set to unravel.

According to the Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC), parliamentary elections slated for May 4 will not go ahead because Hamas has impeded preparations in Gaza. This latest development can only breed an atmosphere of instability within the territory, and mistrust within the PA leadership in the West Bank. The CEC's chief electoral officer Hisham Kuhail said only "real conciliation" between the factions could resolve the standoff.

As ever, the biggest losers are the Palestinian people. The situation in Gaza is particularly parlous with electricity, medicine and even food in short supply. The squabbling between Hamas and Fatah makes them complicit in the suffering of their own people. Meanwhile, instability in the Occupied Territory allows groups like Al Quds Brigades to wage their own conflict with Israel, such as the recent rocket attacks that prompted Israel's violent backlash.

Israeli hardliners undoubtedly revel in the fractures in Palestinian unity, as they seem unable to comprehend that the lack of a peace process ultimately threatens Israel more than any other. In the face of provocations such as Friday's attack, it is vital that the Palestinian factions show restraint. As we have consistently noted on these pages, the only way forward for Palestinians is through peaceful resistance, not on the battlefield. And if Hamas is to successfully negotiate a transition to non-violence, it must improve security in Gaza by reining in militant groups.

Above all, parliamentary elections are essential if a unified Palestinian leadership is to advance the case for statehood, a case that must be brought back to the United Nations.

Israel's war of words with Iran in recent months has overshadowed the issue of settlement building and Israel's other injustices. Further discord between Hamas and Fatah only plays into the hands of their oppressors.