Palestinians from the Hamas movement wave Egyptian, Tunisian and old Libyan flags during a demonstration calling for reconciliation between the Palestinian rival factions of Fatah and Hamas, Gaza City, Friday, (AP).
Popular calls for ending the "division" between the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip and the Fatah-administered West Bank gained a certain momentum recently with "Facebook youths" and other activists in both territories saying they are planning demonstrations to pressure Hamas and Fatah to put an end to the division.
Both groups say they would like to see the rift coming to a speedy end. However, they sharply disagree on mechanisms to bring about true national reconciliation.
Two weeks ago, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad proposed the formation of a government of national unity that would include representatives from both Fatah and Hamas, with the security situation in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip remaining largely unchanged, at least until mutually-agreed upon elections are organised.
Hamas reacted to the proposal somewhat favourably, however, some leaders had a mixed reaction. Some Fatah leaders, like Hatem Abdul Qader of East Jerusalem, are worried that the adoption of Fayyad's initiative could lead to the perpetuation of the political division between the West Bank and Gaza.
However, both groups are showing more reluctance to make decisions, probably waiting to see more solid signs from the post-Mubarak regime in Egypt. The Mubarak regime was the main broker and mediator between Fatah and Hamas. It was also largely viewed as Fatah's main patron in the Arab arena.
In fact, various signs keep coming from all parties involved, including Egypt.
According to Palestinian Authority (PA) sources the head of the military ruling council in Cairo, Sayed Muhammed Tantawi, has ensured PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of continued Egyptian support. A high-ranking Egyptian intelligence official is also due to visit Ramallah next week, apparently to discuss fresh efforts to affect Palestinian national reconciliation.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian ambassador to the PA, Yasser Othman, was quoted this week as saying that the country's military leadership was considering loosening travel restrictions on Palestinians leaving the Gaza Strip.
The easing of Egypt’s long-standing blockade of the coastal enclave has long been one Hamas's principle demands. Hamas had accused Fatah of conspiring with the Mubarak regime and Israel to keep the blockade in place in order to strangle Hamas and coerce it to surrender.
The new gesture from Egypt, according to some commentators, should make Hamas have fewer reservations about Egyptian mediation efforts.
Nonetheless, the overall picture with regard to Hamas-Fatah rapprochement doesn't seem very encouraging as political and ideological differences remain wide and seemingly unbridgeable.
Fatah has for long adopted "peace negotiations" as the only strategy for liberation and statehood, a strategy which most pundits agree has failed rather calamitously.
Hamas, on the other hand, has seen the Egyptian, Tunisian and other Arab revolutions to come as a vindication of its line of thinking as well as a booster of Palestinian morale, especially vis-à-vis Israel.
Speaking in Sudan on Sunday, 6 March, Hamas' politburo Chief Khalid Mashal said "the events that have taken place in both Tunisia and Egypt have revived the Umma [muslim community]; now we see that Cairo has reverted to its natural place of prominence and leadership after a long absence."
Alluding to the rift with Fatah, Mashaal said "The first step to liberate Jerusalem from the Zionist occupation is the rejection of futile talks with Israel and finding a state of reconciliation based on resistance against that entity."
Hamas said it was preparing a national reconciliation initiative, which it hopes will end the division with Fatah.