A 2,000 strong crowd turned out in Ramallah today in support of unity between Fatah and Hamas. Fatah supporter, Loay Ghashash, emphasised the importance of overall Palestinian unity for reaching a conclusive solution to the occupation. ‘We cannot live divided, it weakens us’, he stated. ‘Unity will not end the occupation but it is the first step, after which we can work on other issues like the election process and reforming the PLO.’
Ghashash believes the ideological divergence between both parties is not insurmountable and is optimistic that a joint government can be achieved, ‘provided they meet in the middle; if not, they will find themselves isolated from the people.’ Ghashash went on to say that Hamas and Fatah should be talking about the rights of the Palestinian people rather than focusing on the political interests of the parties.’
Ghashash claims that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have different perceptions on the importance of unity, with those in the West Bank viewing it as more pressing. ‘They have an interest in unity because they are the ones that have to deal with settlers, which is not the case in Gaza.’ The rallies for unity, staged in several West Bank towns and in Gaza today, are essential in order to bring about change, Ghashash asserted. ‘Demonstrations such as this will create a snowball effect.’
Another local Fatah supporter, Salah Hanieh said, ‘I think the will is there.’ Hanieh feels that the primary concern of the Palestinian people is in bringing an end to the fractured nature of their governments, pointing to the sea of Palestinian flags in the crowd, Hanieh said, ‘We are seeing Palestinian flags, not political ones, thus public opinion is clearly supporting unity’ he continued.
‘The roots for compromise are there in the Cairo agreement,’ Salah asserted. He believes the basis for reconciliation is in finding a common ground for both parties by utilising the terms of previous agreements. ‘We can then take steps from there’.
The protest was attended by Nabil Sha’ath, head of the International Affairs Department for Fatah. When asked about the paradox of calling for unity between the Gazan and West Bank governments while Hamas members are being arrested by Fatah security forces, Mr. Sha’ath, replied, ‘Unity will put an end to this. The only problem for Hamas is the Israelis, who will arrest or assassinate its members caught operating here.’
The chief motor behind today’s events, according to Mr. Sha’ath, is for Palestinians of all political stripes to stand under one banner. ‘The two main slogans here, “end separation” and “end the occupation,” have merged into one,’ he noted. ‘Unity is possible although today it is Hamas who is obstructing such an outcome. A year ago, you could have said that it was all of us.’
Muna Namura, member of the Palestinian Popular Front, agrees that raising the Palestinian flag is the main goal of the protest. ‘No one here has come to represent their own party. We don’t want any other agendas in Palestine apart from ending the occupation.’
When asked about Hamas’s stance on the promotion of unity, Mrs. Namura stated that ‘it is deeds, not words that matter. Authorities in Gaza, announcing that unity demonstrations were forbidden, arrived at a gathering today bearing the Hamas flag.’
With regard to the turnout at today’s demonstration, Sha’ath commented, ‘We have learned something from the Egyptians. With large numbers comes qualitative, as well as quantitative change. There are roughly one thousand supporters here today but we should have had five times as many.’ Most participants seemed to believe that partisan differences ought to be put aside in order to achieve the ultimate objective, which is the liberation of both Gaza and the West Bank. Sahal remarks that ‘We both want the same goal but are trying to reach it through different means.’