x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Voices in unity raise new hope for Palestinians

In protests calling for Palestinian unity, young people in the West Bank and Gaza are demonstrating a new kind of resistance.

The phrase "Palestinian resistance" does not usually evoke peaceful images. From the forced removal of Palestinians from their homes, to Israel's use of fighter-jets to strike neighbourhoods in the West Bank, to rocket attacks from Gaza, violence has been ingrained in the story of the Palestinian struggle.

The Palestinian community appears more insistent than ever not to be defined by that narrative and to articulate one of its own choosing. Yesterday, thousands in Gaza and the West Bank called for reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah; in response, the Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniya called for a dialogue. It is too much to expect that this alone will lay the foundation for long-needed compromise, but the protests, and the immediate response to them, are reasons for encouragement.

The calls for national unity come at a time when optimism has returned among many young people, inspired by Arab uprisings throughout the region. Fatigued by factionalism and political stagnation, protesters have expressed their frustration at a loss of national identity. "I tell people I'm from Gaza, not from Palestine, and that's very sad," said Abu Ghassan, an organiser from the Gaza Youth Breaks Out movement. "We want the spirit of one people to come back."

That longing is understandable and it will turn to anger if leaders on both sides continue to pursue their narrow interests. Recent events have done little to inspire confidence. Negotiations with Israel stand at an impasse, infighting continues between Hamas and Fatah, and a beleaguered Palestinian Authority labours under accusations of corruption, inefficiency and complicity with an intransigent Israeli government.

Resistance remains part of the Palestinian solution, but it cannot be the resistance of old. The Palestinians who took to the streets in protest yesterday were resisting against the fractures that have too long divided them. For any larger resistance to succeed, and for any resolution to be found, Palestinian leaders must follow.

There have been signs of hope. Fatah's prime minister Salam Fayyad has advanced a foundation for statehood, building institutions that involve the youth, encourage civic engagement and foster responsive government. But he too has warned that a fragmented Palestinian people cannot form a real state.

For more than 60 years, too many Palestinians have resigned themselves to pessimism. This new flag being raised both in the West Bank and Gaza calling for unity does not depend on any one leader or, indeed, on any foreign approval. It is the Palestinians themselves who carry this new hope.