The Palestine Liberation Organization and the leadership of Hamas in the Gaza Strip announced an end to their seven-year political dispute on Wednesday, saying that the two main factions of the Palestinian people have signed a "historic" pact to re-unify the Palestinian governments in both the West Bank and Gaza within weeks and plans for new elections within the year.
The announcement came at a press conference in Gaza where an envoy from the PLO, which controls the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, arrived on Tuesday for talks with the Hamas leadership.
"For the sake of Palestine and the Palestinian children, you must get unified against the Israeli occupation." —Mariam abu Daqqa, activist in Gaza
"This is the good news we tell our people: the era of division is over," said Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas's prime minister, to the gathered journalists.
“We have made this Palestinian dream a reality whereby the rift has come to an end and we are reunited,” said PLO official Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior member of the Palestinian Authority representing the Abbas-led Fatah party.
On Tuesday, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that unity between the Palestinian parties would put an end to the so-called "peace process" because, in his eyes, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, cannot possibly make peace with Hamas while also pursuing an end to the conflict with the state of Israel.
“[Abbas] has to choose," said Netanyahu. "Does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel? You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace. So far he hasn’t done so.”
According to Reuters:
Palestinians have long hoped for a healing of the political rift between the PLO and the Gaza-based Islamist group Hamas, which won the Palestinian elections in 2006 and in 2007 took control of the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to the western-backed the president, Abbas.
Arab-brokered unity pacts reached between the two sides had not been implemented to date, and many Palestinians were left feeling skeptical about their leaders' reconciliation pledges.
The skepticism among some Palestinian rights experts, however, continues even in the wake of the announcement. For activist and journalist Ali Abunimah, who edits the influential Electronic Intifada website—the PA has diminished its legitimacy by repeatedly engaging with Israeli in "security operations" in the West Bank and by consistently avoiding a stronger stance amid the occupation of both the West Bank and Gaza. Responding to Wednesday's announcement, Abunimah sent several tweets voicing his skepticism of what the unity pact may bring:
Any "reconciliation" that doesn't end PA collaboration with Israel will be at the expense of the Palestinian people and their rights.— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) April 23, 2014
Did Abbas Authority agree to stop "security coordination" with the occupation? If not, this agreement is worthless. http://t.co/oHMKJ6QhNt— Ali Abunimah (@AliAbunimah) April 23, 2014
And Al-Jazeera offered reactions to the agreement that bridged hopefulness and skepticism:
Ramallah resident Nur Hamad, said she supported reconciliation "because we have to be one nation".
"No factions, only a Palestinian nation, but I don't think Fatah and Hamas are going to succeed," Hamad said.
And Mariam abu Daqqa, an activist in Gaza said, "We are saying to both Fatah and Hamas for the sake of Palestine and the Palestinian children, you must get unified against the Israeli occupation."
Offering additional details, the Ma'an News Agency adds:
The joint PLO-Hamas statement [...] authorized the Palestinian Authority president to set a date for new elections, and emphasized the commitment of both sides to the reconciliation principles that had been agreed upon in the Cairo Agreement and the Doha Declaration.
They also emphasized the need to reactivate the Palestinian Legislative Council.
Fatah leader Azzam al-Ahmad said that neither side will accept the resumption of negotiations with Israel without clear guidelines, and that negotiations had stalled as a result of "Israel intransigence" and "American bias."