As political and economic conditions have reached their lowest ebb to date, the Palestinian political elite has finally seen fit to step up their dialogue, presumably in an effort aimed at finding an outlet for the acute crisis which currently faces the Palestinian people.
It is probably fitting to point out upfront that the current crisis has not been created by the Hamas government. We all still remember the state of affairs that prevailed for many years under the previous governments. Nonetheless, one has to admit that the living conditions, chaos in the Palestinian Authority (PA) administration, and lawlessness have all reached a nadir record low during the past few months. The most eloquent description of this mess was voiced by Dr. Ghazi Hamad (the Hamas government spokesperson) in a statement made to Al-Quds daily.
All this talk and frenzy, however, have not done much so far to mitigate the bitterness felt by the ordinary Palestinians, who looked forward to reform and change when they exercised their right to vote some months earlier, whether for the Presidency or the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).

A Mirage Called 'National Unity Government'

As if it were not enough that attempts at getting out of the present impasse have come much too late, i.e., when conditions have deteriorated to an unprecedented low, yet based on what we hear from most Palestinian quarters, we seem to be on the verge of extricating ourselves from one problem, only to sink deeper into a new one. The panacea to our grievances, as being worked out by Fateh and Hamas, is nothing more than a mirage by the name of "national unity government."
What are the bases that are to underpin a future national government? The talk revolves mainly around the Prisoners' Document, as though it were a magic recipe. On the one hand, it is expected to bolster the survival of the government against all odds, and at the same time it is supposed to ensure the success of the government in taking on the enormous tasks that have accumulated as a result of current and previous failures.
The question remains, however: Can the Prisoners' Document form a sufficiently adequate foundation on which to build such expectations? I do not think that there is any leader in the Palestinian factions who does not know the answer to this question. It is certain that the divergences among the various factions as to their intellectual and political stances, as well as the mechanisms they may resort to when addressing pending hot issues, are enough to paralyze the new government as soon as it faces its first test. And then we will go back to square one, but after yet more suffering and more political failures.

Dividing the Government Pie

Those who have sufficient knowledge of what goes on during the sessions of "national dialogue," both past and present, are well aware that these exercises were and still are a waste of time and effort, and they have not born any fruit. Consequently, all the talk that is taking place at present will most likely end up with a business deal between the rival factions, whereby they simply divide the government pie among themselves.
And in spite of the lack of confidence - even respect - that characterizes the relations among the leaders of the major rival factions, one can still contemplate that ultimately, they may succeed in forming a "national unity government." But it is the right of every Palestinian citizen to ask questions and get convincing answers as to the practical programs that such a government will be adopting, and the solutions that it will be proposing to grapple with the many tough issues awaiting it.
The Palestinians have learned the hard way about the methods used by previous governments to deal with issues of paramount significance to them. They have expressed their views on the performance of those governments when they cast their votes during the latest legislative elections. Regrettably, based on what we see in the Fateh arena so far, including the last meeting of its Central Committee, it is highly unlikely that the ordinary Palestinian citizen will find anything convincing to warrant the return of the old guard to power, even in partnership with Hamas.

PM Ismail Haniyeh and President Mahmoud Abbas: The Palestinian people is bigger
than either Hamas and Fateh.

A Problem of Perception

A serious problem also exists regarding the way the Hamas leadership perceives the scope of mandate they have acquired through the past elections. It is by now a well-known fact that at least half the votes that Hamas got were based on protest and punitive motives for the wrongdoings attached to the outgoing leadership, and which was accused, rightly or wrongly, of having dragged the country to where it is now.
A large majority within the Palestinian society, on the other hand, feels that after seven months, "the government of reform and change" has indeed effected a lot of change, but certainly no reforms. It is true that Hamas has seized authority through democratic means, regardless of the voting motives, yet it is inconceivable that after all that we are seeing today, the Hamas government still holds on to power, claiming that this is democracy.
We are of course conscious of the fact that the major reason for the government's shortcomings is the refusal of many major international and Arab parties to deal with it, or give it a sufficient opportunity to prove itself. But do the leaders of this government entertain any hope, after all they witnessed during the past seven months, that the international and Arab isolation imposed on them will come to an end in the foreseeable future?
The Palestinian citizens have backed their government for seven months by now and, because of that, they have borne many sacrifices. But we do not know how much more suffering they have to bear, and how much more political stagnation and international isolation the Palestinian people will have to cope with until the government comes to the conclusion that it has lost its raison d'être.

Getting Their Priorities Right

The two eventual partners in the national unity government suffer from an acute loss of confidence that does not justify their existence in executive power at this juncture in time, albeit within the context of an agreed-upon deal that will satisfy their factional and personal ambitions.
If the leadership of both factions, Fateh and Hamas, are genuine about their intentions of rescuing their people from the current muddle and devastation, then both of them will have to acknowledge that the Palestinian people is bigger than either of them, and that their track records justify a fresh change. They will have to realize that, in spite of the factional hegemony of the past decades, the Palestinian people are capable of coming up with new leaders who are willing and capable of serving their country with competence and transparency, yet without the need for any factional ID card.
In order to regain the confidence of the Palestinians, political and "liberation" factions have a lot of homework to do. But regardless of what they say or do, it is imperative that President Mahmoud Abbas take historic decisions which rise above factional considerations. The goal should be, first and foremost, to extricate the Palestinian people from the quagmire in which they are drowning, instead of pouring futile hours over the import of the so-called Prisoners' Document.