After Rival factions signed an agreement in Algiers on Thursday aimed at resolving 15 years of discord, Palestinian political leaders, experts, and opinion makers have expressed a high degree of skepticism about the recently announced Palestinian reconciliation agreement, which states that elections will be held within a year after months of talks mediated by Algeria.
The agreement is aimed at mending the rift between President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah and Hamas, which has split Palestinian governance in the Gaza Strip from the West Bank and hindered Palestinian ambitions of statehood.
Hamadeh Faraneh, an influential columnist in Jordan and Palestine, told Arab News that the agreement follows on from several previous agreements that have made no real difference.
“The Algerian declaration is no different in substance from the previous agreements and declarations in Cairo, Turkey, Makkah and other places. The difference (now), of course, is that Algeria is a staunch supporter of the Palestinian people,” he said.
Faraneh said the keyword that has been repeated in the Algerian agreement is “partnership.” “Abbas will be attending the October 23 Arab summit in Algiers. It would be a very nice gesture if he included a Hamas official in the Palestinian delegation to the summit,” Faraneh added.
Abbas was unable to attend the Algiers meeting because of previous commitments in Kazakhstan, but sources close to the president told Arab News that the presidency highly appreciated the efforts of Algeria “and whoever else wants to help us in reaching the goal of reconciliation.”
A major obstacle facing the Palestinian leadership, they say, is the fact that Hamas is not willing to accept international law and the Palestinian principles set out in the Palestinian charter and resolutions of the Palestine National Council.
Ali Jarbawi, a political studies professor at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, told Arab News that reconciliation does not happen in meetings but needs to be carried out on the ground. “There is nothing (in this agreement compared to previous ones) that gives us reason for optimism that the situation on the ground will change,” he said.
Roman Orthodox Archbishop Atallah Hanna told Arab News that the reconciliation agreement signed in Algiers is a step in the right direction, “but it needs to be followed up on the ground so that it doesn’t just remain on paper.”
Mohammad Rajoub, a popular radio anchor at the private radio station Ajjyal, told Arab News that Palestinians have long lost faith in reconciliation efforts.
“People don’t care because they are convinced that what is happening is a charade by both Fatah and Hamas, who don’t want to appear publicly to be opposed to reconciliation,” he said.
Rajoub added that the concern is that Palestinians will lose the support of the Algerian people if this agreement does not result in reconciliation is not carried out. He estimates its chances of success as “near zero.”
Nora Kort, a community activist in the old city of Jerusalem, told Arab News that such agreements “are nothing more than a waste of time.”
She said: “We need serious efforts on behalf of Palestine. We have suffered because of the selfishness of all these factions.”
Khalil Assali, a Jerusalem-based journalist, told Arab News that the vast majority of people he has interviewed in the holy city expressed skepticism in the leadership of both Ramallah and Gaza.
“They used the Arabic term ‘kalam fadi’ (empty rhetoric) to describe the agreement. The truth is that the factions can talk around the clock about ending the division. But unless they take urgent steps on the ground, no one will believe them,” Assali said.
Palestinian activist and critic of the Abbas administration Fadi Elsalameen told Arab News that “as long as an Israeli strategy is built on separating the Palestinians to advance illegal settlements and halt any political progress on the ground, the reconciliation is at risk.”
“One must ask who on the Palestinian side is executing this Israeli strategy and why they are standing in the way of reconciliation,” he added. “I’ll believe in reconciliation when I see Abbas in Gaza when we form a unity government and dates for elections are not canceled.”