The Palestinian unity government is at last becoming a reality. There is a sense of optimism and euphoria as Hamas and Fatah, bitter rivals for seven long years, choose to bury their differences and work together for the realization of the Palestinian dream of forming a full-fledged state. There has been some skepticism in the past few weeks about the ability of the two sides to unite due to previous experiences. The two parties had vowed to make amends on two previous occasions - in Cairo in 2011 and Doha in 2012 - and little practical progress had been made. But the latest agreement has sounded credible as both sides moved with a certain determination. And the response on the ground too has been very encouraging. Palestinians on either side of the divide hailed the move, and Fatah newspapers have started appearing in Gaza for the first time in seven years and Hamas flags are flying in some West Bank villages.
Hamas and Fatah leaders have realized that fighting and disunity will not take them anywhere and will only help Israel, which has benefited immensely from the rift. The Arab Spring and the huge internal problems in the Arab world have resulted in an erosion of interest in the Palestinian cause at Arab capitals. The support base of both Fatah and Hamas has depleted, and the geopolitical changes have brought new equations to the dispute. While the Palestinian cause languished due to the Fatah-Hamas rift, Israel has been exploiting it to create new realities on the ground. The continuing settlement expansion and the outright rejection by the Netanyahu government of all international appeals to respect rules have been made possible due to the lack of unity.
A unity government will open up new possibilities and Fatah and Hamas must stick to their plan against all odds. Once the government is formed, the next challenge will be an announcement on the date of elections in the West Bank and Gaza, which are expected to be held within the next six months. A democratically elected government should make the unity process irreversible.
As expected, Israel is trying hard to scuttle the coming together of Palestinian leaders. A Palestinian publishing house said Israeli forces raided its headquarters in Ramallah yesterday and warned it not to publish papers close to the Hamas. The headquarters of the Al Ayyam newspaper has been publishing three pro-Hamas newspapers from early this month after the reconciliation. Such pressure tactics from Israel will continue and are likely to intensify.
The time has come for Palestinians to take charge of their future and stop relying too much on Arab and Western countries. The seismic shifts happening in the world are rewriting diplomatic relations and rules of engagement.