Reconstruction is a term that will keep popping up in the foreseeable future in connection with recent events in the Palestinian territories, Gaza in particular. It will certainly convey a sense of hope for the Palestinians. But the few days since the ceasefire agreement went into effect have shown that it could also be a minefield. Even without subversive interventions from the other side, it is laden with the potential to reproduce precarious situations.
This could occur in the event of a backslide in the most positive feature of the present situation: the renewed priority the Palestinian cause has achieved on the regional and international agenda. No one disputes that this constitutes a victory in its own right, especially given the bleak haze that had surrounded the pursuit of Palestinian rights for nearly a full decade.
The major landmine lurks in the act of “attention”. An obstacle to the reconstruction of the cause could arise if Palestinian politicians believe the region and the world will let themselves be dragged into yet another endless vicious circle of ambiguous, contradictory and futile positions. This is where the constructive use of time comes in, one of the most crucial prerequisites for revitalising the cause or, at least, putting paid to that common perception that the Palestinians are forever keen to invest in the cause, and never keen in invest in solving it or pursuing possible solutions.
Palestinian figures and entities from Fatah to the smallest faction need to summon the will to make more profound structural and ideological changes than ever before contemplated. What we see unfolding today is essentially the production of a new edition of the Palestinian cause.
Egyptian actions during the recent round of escalation and aggression contributed much to it by adopting an approach that avoids posturing, one upmanship and obstructiveness, keeping its sights set on the larger picture. This is why Cairo condemned and worked to halt the Israeli rights violations and abuses in Jerusalem and the West Bank while, in tandem, exerting unstinting efforts to curb the human and material losses in Gaza. Such factors are essential to reviving the indispensable unity and shared fate of the Palestinian polity.
Bearing this in mind, Hamas and other factions in Gaza are the entities that most need to change. This is not because they control the strip, but because they constantly insist on linking themselves and a significant portion of the Palestinian cause to the game of regional axes.
Hamas has had one foot in the Islamist project sponsored by Turkey and Qatar and the other in the “rejectionist” camp championed by Iran and its acolytes in Damascus, Beirut and Sanaa, and their many and various militias. Hamas is fully aware that Ankara and Tehran are using it, that to them Hamas is merely a tool to assert regional leverage. But the result is the forfeiture of shared frames of reference, the misrepresentation of the Palestinian cause and an injustice to the fight for national liberation.
Since the beginning of this year the Islamist axis has been quietly reconciling itself with major regional powers. After the Al-Ula agreement, in particular, it has gradually moved to reestablish good relations with these powers, albeit calibrating its steps so that they do not appear to be a complete reversal of this camp’s policies and behaviours during the past decade. That is perfectly understandable and it suggests that a new map of convergent interests is in the making. Tehran takes its utilitarian approach further than the Turkish-led axis. Tehran has always needed to back a “Sunni” armed faction so as to camouflage its doctrinal sectarian bigotry and extremism. This is why it relies on Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in Gaza as Sunni props for its strident campaign to proclaim its bond to the Palestinian cause.
Both camps have run into limits on how far they could take their machinations. In Turkey’s case this has to do with Ankara’s close relations with Tel Aviv. As for Tehran, while its project crisscrosses the Israeli one in many areas the two sides have yet to resolve, it would probably be more prepared than Ankara to toss away its Palestine card and the radical factions along with it if this meant concluding a deal with Washington.
For the foregoing and other reasons, Hamas desperately needs to engage in some serious introspection and revision. The international community is fully aware of the dimensions of Hamas’s regional entanglements which explains why the US has been remarkably explicit in its insistence that forthcoming actions to help the Palestinians must not let Hamas reap any benefits in the context of internal Palestinian political equations.
In like manner, against the backdrop of suring Arab and international sympathy for the Palestinians, the current thinking in Arab capitals is that the support dedicated to the reconstruction of Gaza must be balanced by an equal level of support to Ramallah in order to repair the damage to the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas.
However, just as Hamas needs to go back to the basics of the Palestinian cause, to focus on its national unifying principles and to stop “religifying” it, which Israel has always found convenient, the PA needs to open its doors and its mind to all factions. It is only natural that the PA, too, should undergo a thorough process of revision with an eye to devising a new mode of responding to and interacting with the street.
Above all, it must not appear as though it is intent on reaping what it is not its right to reap. It must work to present itself to its regional partners and the international community as the true voice of the concerns and aspirations of all Palestinians without exception. It must be able to remain firm in the areas where firmness is required and to show flexibility where and when needed. Towards this end, it needs to bring forward new Palestinian faces who can win trust both at home and abroad.
*The writer is managing director of the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 3 June, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly