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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 January 2019

Palestinians form new party to challenge Israel's occupation

The new party proposes to bring together the West Bank and Gaza

A Palestinian protester uses a slignshot to hurl objects during clashes following a demonstration near the border with Israel east of Gaza City on January 4, 2019. AFP
A Palestinian protester uses a slignshot to hurl objects during clashes following a demonstration near the border with Israel east of Gaza City on January 4, 2019. AFP

A new Palestinian party has been established that seeks a united front against Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as an end to divisions between Fatah and Gaza’s rulers Hamas.

At a press conference, five Palestinian factions said they were seeking to break the duopoly of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who presides over the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and Hamas, the movement that has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

The new party is to be known as “the Democratic Caucus” or the “Palestinian Democratic Group” and was formally launched in the West Bank city of Ramallah and the Gaza Strip on January 3.

Leaders in the group said they would work towards holding presidential and parliamentary elections, and protecting human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Qais Abu Layla, one of the officials leading the new coalition of five factions, has said that one of its primary aims is to prevent the fragmentation of the Palestinian parties seeking to end Israel’s 51-year occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

He said both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas were to blame for the split and that Palestinians needed another political option. Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are yet to respond to the creation of the new party.

The official suggested that new elections be held within six months in a bid to end the Palestinian split.

Palestinian elections were last held in 2006 and have been indefinitely postponed due to political discord between rival factions Fatah and Hamas.

Hamas wrested control of the Gaza Strip from Mr Abbas's government after his Fatah party failed in a 2007 coup plot. Efforts to reconcile the two parties have yet to yield results.

The launch of a new political party in Palestine is a sign of the desire for new ideas in the West Bank and Gaza where years of political stalemate have seen Israel boost their grip on swathes of occupied territory.

The hard-right government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has continued to build settlements largely unopposed and the United States relocated its embassy to Jerusalem last year, effectively recognising the city of which Israel illegally occupies half as its entire capital.

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The new party appears to be a move to unite Palestinians around basic agreed principles, such as a united political front against Israel, which is widely perceived to be actively working to maintain the Palestinian split and even widen it.

Palestinians are disenfranchised with Mr Abbas, with almost two-thirds of West Bank Palestinians wanting him to resign from his position. They complain that he has failed to deliver progress on the peace process with Israel and his cooperation with Israel, particularly on matters of security, are deeply unpopular.

He has also sought to oust rival politicians, such as former chief for Fatah in Gaza, Mohammed Dahlan, who now resides in Abu Dhabi. It remains unclear if this new party will face any reprisals from the Palestinian Authority or Hamas in Gaza for attempting to challenge their rule.

After decades of a moribund peace process, many Palestinians have lost interest or hope in Palestinian politics and any new party would have to work hard to persuade them that they could be trusted after a series of failed promises by Palestinian representatives in both the West Bank and Gaza.

Both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas operate parallel governments in the West Bank and Gaza and the rift between the two has threatened to turn violent.

Rami Hamdallah, the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, survived an assassination attempt on a visit to Gaza in March 2017. The Palestinian Authority blamed Hamas who denied any involvement. Palestinians officials have not returned to the enclave since for fear of attack.

Updated: January 6, 2019 07:32 PM

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