2 Steps Forward, 2 Steps Back

The Palestinians seem to be right back where they started 2 months ago

Early last month, Fatah and Hamas, the two major Palestinian political parties, signaled that they were working towards forming a unity government. In my commentary on the talks, I assumed that the deal was, well, a done deal. Reporting at the time led me to believe that the documents being signed in Cairo were those of the actual unity agreement, but it turns out they were nothing of the sort.

Six weeks after the meeting, Hamas and Fatah are no closer to signing anything that would actually allow them to work together, having missed every deadline for further talks and decisions on the matter. The causes of this are many. Hamas fears what will happen to its militaristic, Islamist cause in the Gaza Strip if Fatah, a more secular party, has a say in it. Many Hamas leaders were blindsided by the unity talks and claim that Khaled Meshal, a senior figure in Hamas, didn’t ask their opinion before sitting down with Fatah leaders. And it seems that no one can agree on who should be the joint Prime Minister – a rather important detail. Regardless, the point is that no unity government will be formed in the near future.

A few weeks after these talks began, Egypt announced it would open the Rafah border crossing into Gaza. This, I argued, was a necessary measure that would allow in foodstuffs and medicine badly needed in the strip. For care that couldn’t be provided in Gaza’s lacking medical facilities, the opening of the crossing meant that Palestinians could travel freely outside Gaza and seek out higher quality care.

Alas, this too has failed to happen as it was supposed to. Less than one week after the crossing was opened, Egypt slapped a 400 passenger a day limit on it. They also brought back a blacklist of 5,000 Gazans who are not to be allowed to cross for security reasons. The second point is sensible, provided the list is properly vetted and utilized. But the limit of 400 passengers essentially brings the limit on Gazan mobility right back to where it was before.

I wonder what those responsible for these policies are attempting to accomplish. I’m sure that in both cases, the unity deal and the crossing opening, progress was halted by some party that had enough influence to keep things as they were before. But why even bother teasing Gazans with the opportunity to travel freely when you plan on revoking it so soon afterwards? And why did Hamas and Fatah even pretend like they could get along well enough to actually work in unison – were they naïve, manipulative or simply optimistic?

Going back and forth on these types of issues does little but stoke old frustrations. This frustration either carries over into action, at times violent, or leads to a resigned apathy. What’s the point in choosing one side or another if no real progress is ever to be made? If you claim you’ll completely open the crossing, you had better leave it as open as you said you would. And if you are attempting to form a unity government, then at least show up to the talks and make some tangible progress. That way, even if the unification crumbles, your constituents would know to take it off the table.

Going forward, the leaders in the region need to take into account the negative effects indecisiveness can have on their populations. They should be encouraged to stick to agreements that they have made and follow policies they have created. Perhaps then they can end the dance of taking two steps forward only to take two back and ending up right where they began.

Ryan Pavel is a Program and Research Intern with the SISGI Group focusing on foreign military involvement, policy and strategy into conflicts and motivations behind and impact of foreign aid. To learn more about the SISGI Group visit www.sisgigroup.org



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