Palestinian Unity Government: The Unilateral Option Returns

The Palestinian National Unity government may establish an effective address in the PA while simultaneously creating a political deadlock. This is likely to bring the unilateral option back on the Israeli agenda.

The Mecca agreement and the establishment of a Palestinian National Unity government constitute a political and constitutional revolution for the Palestinian National Movement and will likely strengthen the Palestinian Authority as an effective address in Gaza and the West Bank. However, they also lead to a political and structural deadlock between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Reut Institute contends that the combination between the establishment of a Palestinian address in Gaza and the West Bank and the political deadlock strengthens Israel's unilateral option.

What is the Issue?

The Palestinian National Unity government was established after months of violent clashes between Fatah and Hamas that led to the paralysis of the PA. These clashes occurred, among other reasons, due to a lack of agreement over which entity has the right, the authority, and the responsibility to represent the Palestinian people:

  • Who is the representative: the PLO or the PA? - Despite the official position of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, the political center of gravity has moved in recent years, from the PLO to the institutions of the PA.

  • Who controls the PA: Fatah or Hamas? - The overlap of powers and authorities between the Chairman of the PA, Abu Mazen, and the Hamas-led government, has led to a constitutional and political crisis that has paralyzed the PA.

According to the Mecca agreement and the platform of the Unity government, the responsibility for conducting negotiations will remain with the PLO and the President of the PA. Any agreement reached is supposed to be ratified in one of the following ways:

  • In the reformed Palestinian National Council of the PLO, after the Cairo agreements intended to integrate Hamas are implemented;

  • By referendum among the Palestinians which would include residents of Gaza, the West Bank, and the Palestinian Diaspora.

Why is this Important? Why Now?

The Mecca agreement and the establishment of the National Unity government constitute a political and constitutional revolution and have several political implications:

Strengthening the PA and turning it into a stable address

Until now, a Palestinian address did not exist - Since Arafat's death and more significantly since Hamas' victory, the Palestinian political system did not have the capacity to participate in a political process, to enforce a ceasefire, or to satisfy the basic needs of the population.

The establishment of a Unity government strengthens the PA as an effective address in Gaza and the West Bank because:

  • The political status of the PA has been upgraded in favor of the PLO in light of PM Haniyeh's invitation to the Riyadh conference scheduled to take place at the end of the month.

  • A political solution was found to the constitutional crisis in the PA based on the compromise made between Chairman Abu Mazen and the government, over the division of authority.

  • The Unity government enjoys widespread public support due to the fact that it prevented the eruption of civil war.

Structural and Political Deadlock

The Mecca agreement and the platform of the Unity government created a process for ratifying agreements that leads to a political deadlock:

Ratification Unlikely through the PLO - It seems unlikely that a reform will be made to the PLO in the near future, in light of the power struggles between Fatah and Hamas. Ostensibly, until a new PLO is created, there is no way to ratify significant agreements made with Israel.

Moreover, even if Hamas were to join the PLO, an ideological deadlock is likely to occur as Fatah opposes the creation of a Palestinian State with Provisional Borders and Hamas opposes reaching a Permanent Status agreement (see: Israel's Political Options vis-à-vis the Palestinians).

Ratification Unlikely through Referendum - Conducting a referendum among the Palestinian Diaspora is very complicated, and maybe impossible, in light of the scattering of the Palestinian population throughout different host countries.

Moreover, it is unlikely that an agreement that does not solve the refugee issue will be ratified even if a referendum is carried out.

Policy Options

An address with the capacity to manage the current interim situation - The Unity government is likely to allow Israel to conduct itself vis-à-vis one address in Gaza and the West Bank on daily matters with the Palestinians such as tariff and trade payments, mail services, etc.

Return of the unilateral option - Since Hamas' electoral victory and until the establishment of the Unity government, there was no Palestinian "address" in Gaza and the West Bank that was able to fill the political vacuum left as a result of Israel's unilateral withdrawal. Thus, the combination between the establishment of a Palestinian address and the political deadlock are likely to bring about the return of Israel's unilateral option.