Joint List MKs Ayman Odeh, Jamal Zahalka and Haneen Zoabi at the Tel Aviv University Nakba Day protest.
(photo credit: JOINT ARAB LIST)
Leaders of the Arab-Israeli community, including former and current members of Knesset, have launched an initiative to bridge the schism between Fatah and Hamas in hopes of achieving Palestinian reconciliation.
The initiative, which has received the approval of Fatah and Hamas leaders, is an endeavor of the High Follow-Up Committee for Arab Citizens of Israel led by former longtime Hadash MK Muhammad Barakei.
The Follow-Up Committee, established in 1984, is an independent Arab-Israeli umbrella organization that coordinates political actions of Arab-Israeli society.
Barakei contends that the unity displayed among the Islamist, nationalist, and communist Arab-Israeli parties to form the Joint List in 2015, should serve as a model for Palestinian reconciliation. “The Joint List is an example of all the Arab parties coming together, Islamist, nationalist, communist. So why can’t Hamas and Fatah do the same?” he told The Jerusalem Post over tea at a cafe adjacent to Haifa’s Baha’i gardens.
The Follow-Up Committee’s initiative joins a long list of efforts to reconcile Hamas and Fatah. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and other countries have attempted, but all have failed to overcome outstanding obstacles. The most recent attempt at reconciliation came in June 2016, when Qatari authorities hosted Hamas and Fatah leaders. Yet, before PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal could met, Fatah and Hamas leaders declared the effort a “failure.”
Barakei believes that the Follow-Up Committee’s initiative does not seek to undercut other regional initiatives, but rather to bring them all together. “We want to work with the region and bring all of its initiatives together,” he said, and added, “We support the formation of a national unity government and holding parliamentary and presidential elections within a year following the swearing in of the government.”
Barakei, along with other top Arab-Israeli officials, including MK Jamal Zahalka, MK Masud Gnaim, former MK Taleb al-Sana and others, met with President Mahmoud Abbas on August 13 to discuss their initiative and received the top PA leader’s approval. “Abbas welcomed our intervention. He said ‘we ask you to listen to all the sides and to reach an opinion, and I will commit myself to the committee’s position whatever it is,’” Barakei said.
A senior Hamas official told the Post on the condition of anonymity, that Hamas welcomes the Follow-Up Committee’s initiative. “We welcome this initiative and think it is very positive and constitutes an important contribution to the reconciliation process.”
Barakei said that the Follow-Up Committee has held a number of meetings with Fatah officials and has established contact through third parties with Hamas. Israeli law bans Arab-Israeli officials from directly contacting Hamas because it considers the latter a terrorist organization.
According to Omar Shaban, who is active in reconciliation efforts and chairman of PalThink, a Gaza-based think tank, “‘48 Palestinians have a special ability to act on the logistical level, they can meet both their brothers in Ramallah and Gaza – if the Israelis authorities allow them.”
Balad MK and Follow-Up Committee member Jamal Zahalka agreed with Shaban, adding, “Palestinians in Israel have a good reputation in Gaza and the West Bank and we are not part of the Palestinian factions so our voice is independent and objective.”
However, Hussein Ibish, a senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute, said that the chance the Follow-Up Committee’s initiative will succeed is zero. “There’s no chance this initiative will succeed. Reconciliation militates that the parties need to give up control over territory and neither Hamas or Fatah will do that,” Ibish said in a phone interview. Barakei said that he thinks the issue of security control over the West Bank and Gaza can be resolved through elections. “There will be elections and once the people choose you cannot object and maintain independent security forces,” he said.
Mark Heller, a research associate at the Institute for National Security Studies, believes, similar to Ibish, that this new initiative is not likely to bear fruit.
“Fatah and Hamas have been urged for more than 10 years to reconcile, public opinion is overwhelmingly in their favor and that has not been enough,” he said, “I can’t identify anything in this effort that would change the equation.”
While Barakei knows the many challenges ahead and the dismal success rate, he believes even a small chance of progress behooves the effort.
“I’m not going to say that this initiative will overcome all the obstacles, but if the chance of success are above 20%, that is wonderful.”