Palestinian leaders taking part in a video conference in Ramallah and Beirut have launched a process of reconciliation to forge a united response to normalisation of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel.
There are concerns among Palestinians that other Arab rulers could follow the Emirates’ lead.
During the virtual gathering, Ramallah-based Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas reacted angrily to the Emirates' claim that normalisation has been traded for Israeli suspension of a plan to annex of 30 per cent of the West Bank.
“From now on, no one is authorised to speak on our behalf,” he declared. “We only can speak for our cause.”
Abbas demanded national unity on the basis of “one people and one political system”. This could mean the formation of a national unity government comprising ministers from Hamas-ruled Gaza and the Fatah-administered West Bank.
Abbas and Hamas political chief Ismail Haniya, speaking from Beirut, rejected US mediation and denounced the Trump administration's peace plan.
“We are going through a period that contains unprecedented risks and strategic threats to our Palestinian cause and to the region,” Haniya said.
Senior Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) officials denounced a call by Jared Kushner, the Trump administration's regional policy architect, for Palestinians to appoint a new leadership that would accept his plan for the emergence of a Palestinian entity – rather than a state – in a truncated West Bank.
PLO executive committee member Bassem al-Salihi accused Kushner of plotting to deny “the Palestinian people’s right [to independence] and [end] the PLO as their political representative”.
This effort to heal divisions and unite Palestinian ranks, initiated in July by key figures from both sides, seems to be serious. Palestinians feel they are fighting for their very existence as a people. As overall head of mainstream Fatah and the PLO, Abbas has been reluctant to deal with the non-PLO Hamas and Islamic Jihad since Hamas's takeover of Gaza in 2007, despite Arab pressure to unify.
Given that Abbas has cut relations with Israel and the US, and the Palestinian Authority receives no US funding, he has a free hand to pursue unity, particularly since Haniya favours reconciliation.
The virtual conference coincided with a Qatar-mediated halt to Israeli air strikes in retaliation for the launch by Palestinians of balloons carrying incendiary devices to start fires in Israel. Gaza’s sole supply route between Israel and the strip has been reopened and fuel for Gaza’s electricity plant restored.
Covid infections have risen in Gaza, which had done an effective job of containing the virus by quarantining everyone entering in isolation facilities. However, a Gaza woman who returned from medical treatment Israel introduced community transmission to a refugee camp, which has been locked down.
Gazans had been going about life normally since April but cases have now risen to 581, with five deaths, in a population of two million. Reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas could prompt the Palestinian Authority to provide protective gear for medics and medicine to Gaza.