The goal of the reconciliation deal between rival Palestinian factions is to give Palestinian people “proper elections” and a united political representation for negotiations with Israel.

Rival Palestinian factions have agreed on a reconciliation deal that aims to resolve 15 years of division by calling for new elections in the occupied Palestinian territories within a year after months of talks mediated by Algeria. Palestinians so far carry both hope and skepticism towards the reconciliation effort after previous promises of elections have failed to materialise. 

The agreement was signed on Thursday in Algeria's capital by senior Fatah leader Azzam al Ahmad, Chief of the Hamas political bureau Ismail Haniya and the secretary general of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Talal Naji.

In an exclusive interview with TRT Arabi, Haniya said that the Algiers Declaration would contribute to the Palestinian people’s unity against the occupation.

“The most important thing for Palestinian people to be able to resist the occupation and to stand up tall is for the Palestinian administration and people to be united,” Haniya said. 

In a statement published on Thursday, Türkiye's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was pleased with the outcome of the of the conference of national reconciliation between the Palestinian factions.

"We appreciate Algeria's contributions to the intra-Palestinian reconciliation process that Türkiye has always supported," the ministry's statement said. 

"We view that the declaration adopted at the end of the conference constitutes a suitable basis for the final unification of the Palestinian factions and we wish that the steps enlisted in the declaration, particularly holding of the elections, will be implemented." 

But what is different about this deal compared to previous ones?

Kamel Hawwash, British-Palestinian activist, originally from Jerusalem, and Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign as well as a founding member of the British Palestinian Policy Council, says that Algeria’s mediation could potentially make a difference this time around.

“The Algerians have said they will set up a follow-up committee, Arabs and Palestinians and Algerians, to follow up on the implementation of the deal,” Hawwash tells TRT World

Under the deal, elections will take place for the presidency and for the Palestinian Legislative Council, which acts as a parliament for Palestinians in the occupied territories.

It also requires elections for the Palestinian National Council (PNC), a parliament for Palestinians including the millions-strong diaspora. The deal also recognised the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole representative of the Palestinian people.

Hawwash says that another force for change could come from a new conference that will be held by and for Palestinians on November 5. 

“It will very much be a cause for pushing elections for the Palestine National Council and rebuilding the PLO and will be held both on the ground in Ramallah and Gaza and will link Palestinians to show a popular demand for elections,” Hawwash explains. 

“This push is coming from the bottom-up with the promise to continue to pressure for proper elections so that there is representation for 14 million Palestinians.”

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The challenges ahead 

The main focus of November’s conference will be the Palestine National Council because, as Hawwash explains, it should be the top body in the State of Palestine. But currently, it is not.

Candidates elected to the Palestine National Council would then be elected to smaller bodies - the Central Council and then the executive committee, which is the PLO.

Hawwash says that the PNC is an important democratic body because people are able to elect their representatives. He says the PNC should be the first body to hold elections.

“The point is that the base should be the Palestine National Council, which should decide what the role of the Palestinian National Authority should be, or whether the body even needs to exist. But that's side-lined completely by the current leadership and it effectively operates without reference to that top body,” Hawwash explains.

The Palestinian National Authority, which is the Fatah-controlled government body that exercises partial civil control over parts of the occupied West Bank, is a post-Oslo Accords body and so is the Palestinian Legislative Council, which was established to increase accountability in the Palestinian National Authority.

President Mahmoud Abbas has effectively dissolved the legislative council and placed the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he is also president of, under the Palestinian National Authority, even though it should be under the PNC. 

If the PNC becomes recognised as a top body, it could lead to a change in the way the Palestinian government deals with Israel on the political ground. A top priority for the PNC would be to put an end to security co-operation with Israel - a decision that has previously been passed by the body but hasn’t been implemented by the current leadership.

It is important to note that elections for the PNC could prove challenging due to the very large Palestinian diaspora, which the body aims to represent alongside Palestinians in the occupied territories. If the diaspora will be included in the vote then what will the process look like? Currently, there are no mechanisms in place to officially include the population living outside the State of Palestine.

The reconciliation deal has not made clear what body will hold elections first. No body has been listed in any particular order, which signals that there might not be too significant a change in the government’s status quo across the occupied territories.

There is also the chance that Israel may not allow Palestinian residents of Jerusalem to vote. This issue occurred last year when President Abbas called for elections and then cancelled them due to Israel’s stance. 

Another critical point to look at under the deal is the fact that the delegations have not agreed to form a unity government.  

“Clearly there was disagreement about this and it may be that this point threatened to lead to the non-signing of the agreement… So the prospect of a unity government was shelved,” explains Hawwash. 

“The reason that the item was removed might be due to fear that if the unity government includes Hamas then it will not be recognised by many countries such as Israel, America, Britain, etc. So maybe they removed the prospect of a unity government to ensure that there was reconciliation first.”

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Hope remains

According to political analyst Sami Hamdi, it was always a bit too optimistic to expect a unity government for the occupied Palestinian territories, considering the deep divisions as well as the outstanding issues between parties.

“However, any dialogue is always considered a positive development. Both parties are under heavy pressure domestically as Israeli settlers push further into the [occupied] West Bank, which suggests that there is a possibility of some traction in the talks.

"The prospect of elections also suggests a desire to placate the Palestinian populations who have been protesting against the Palestinian leadership in recent times, which adds momentum to a possible political rapprochement,” Hamdi tells TRT World

Another possible positive development that can be seen on the horizon is the difference a united voice could make in peace negotiations with Israel.

One of the main excuses Israel puts forward to justify its lack of will to participate in peace negotiations is that there is no united Palestinian leadership to speak to.

The Palestinian National Authority controls parts of the occupied West Bank. Hamas, which Israel recognises as a terrorist organisation, rules over besieged Gaza.

“Now, if the Palestinians are united and they say this is the address you go to, you speak to X, that person or that group of negotiators, then the Palestinians will say to them [Israeli government] that what they claim is not true. We do have one voice,” Hawwash says.

The newly signed deal also means that Palestinian leadership will have significant progress to bring with them to the upcoming Arab League Summit to be held in Algiers from November 1-2. 

“They want to go to that with something that the Arab countries can unite on, in ensuring this agreement is implemented and that there is a path for the Palestinians to free themselves of Israel's daily aggression,” Hawwash explains. 

Hawwash concluded his points by stressing that the biggest priority for Palestinian leadership moving forward should be to understand and agree on what it is that the Palestinian people need and want. 

“It's important that we go back to the basics and ask, what do we want? So you will find people who are calling for an end to apartheid and therefore, maybe then everyone who lives on the land will have equality whether they are Jewish Israelis, or whether they are Palestinians. So what I mean is the starting point is what do the Palestinians want?... I think it is the first step before we even get to the prospect of peace.”

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