GAZA — For 14-year-old Aseel Radi, the promised reconciliation between warring Palestinian political factions is viewed through a forlorn fountain in a crowded market on the eastern side of Gaza City.
Aseel used to visit the fountain in what is known as Palestine Square with her father, Maher, a member of the Fatah faction’s armed wing who was killed by militants from its rival, Hamas, during the bloody six-day battle for control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. Now, only a few bricks remain of the broader basin, which is filled with trash. The lights have been turned off and water no longer flows.
“I do not like passing by it anymore,” Aseel said. “I remember my father in every step I do: when I wake up, when I walk to school, before I sleep, because he used to stay beside me until I fell asleep when I was afraid of something.”
These yearnings of a young girl for a lost parent are among the looming challenges for Palestinian leaders who signed a pact April 23 to reunite Gaza and the West Bank and repair the Fatah-Hamas rift. The 2007 fighting left 260 Fatah activists and 176 from Hamas dead, and a committee is now charged with persuading their families to accept compensation — and raise the funds to pay it — rather than pursue the death penalty as outlined in Islamic law.
This so-called social reconciliation is one of the complicated issues yet to be addressed, as President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority prepares to announce the promised new government as early as this week. While much attention has been focused on how the pact might affect interaction with Israel and financial aid from the United States and Europe, those involved in the process acknowledged that tapping a slate of new ministers to prepare for elections was only the first of several hurdles Palestinians face.
Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s central council who has been involved in the reconciliation efforts, said it remains unclear what will become of the 40,000 employees of the Hamas government — and the 70,000 former Palestinian Authority workers in Gaza who for seven years have collected paychecks but sat idle. It is hard to imagine international donors continuing to pay two people for each job.
A plan for integrating the security forces in Gaza and the West Bank has yet to be made. Who will control the Gaza side of the border crossing into Egypt has not been resolved The fate of 41 Fatah members imprisoned in Gaza and 19 Hamas prisoners in the West Bank is also undecided.
“I can’t tell you there is a full plan,” Mr. Barghouti said last week in an interview at his office in Ramallah. “There are a lot of files, and there is a lot of need for good, wise, policy. Otherwise, instead of solving problems, we should be creating problems.”
“You will see a lot of change,” Mr. Barghouti added. “But believe me, people have doubts all the time, and unless you show them a tangible result, you cannot get rid of these doubts.”
So far, the steps have been mainly symbolic. Last week, Hamas cleared out a gated Gaza City villa that belongs to Mr. Abbas but had been seized during the 2007 battle. Surrounded by withering plants, the house had been occasionally used as a security base. Inside, an open refrigerator showed signs of rot, a broken elevator was filled with broken furniture; and a photo album showing Mr. Abbas with Western and Arab diplomats sat on a table in the salon.
Newspapers from Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza have resumed circulation across the Palestinian territories. Members of Fatah and Hamas have been sitting together in solidarity tents to support hunger-striking prisoners.
Social reconciliation affects a relative handful of the more than four million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, but it is laden by layers of ideology, emotion, and money. Qatar has pledged $5 million — about $11,500 per family — though many of the bereaved say no amount is enough: They want Qisas, an Islamic principle that calls for capital punishment of murderers.
“I will never forgive,” said Hamza Al-Rafati, 24, whose father, Mohammed, a Hamas-affiliated businessman and imam, was among the victims. Three Fatah members were convicted in a Hamas court in 2012 of breaking into the Rafati family’s apartment, shooting Mohammed in the leg, carrying him on a mattress into the street and executing him.
“I want them to be killed,” said Hamza, the eldest of the Rafati family’s five children, who is scheduled to graduate this spring with a law degree. “I want their children to suffer the same way we suffered.”
Ismail Radwan, Hamas’s representative on the committee handling social reconciliation, said that families would not be forced to forgo civil or religious court processes, but that the leaders are counting on them to “present the idealistic moral examples in forgiveness.”
In many cases, like that of Maher Radi, the specific killers are unknown. Security chiefs and faction leaders who ordered shootings could be held accountable in tribunals, but Akram Attalah, a Gaza-based analyst, said “this will prevent any progress” in the broader reconciliation effort.
“My brother’s blood is priceless,” said Abu Diab Radi, a 53-year-old contractor. “We do not even believe the reconciliation will succeed.”
Palestinian officials have said in recent days that Mr. Abbas is likely to ask Rami Hamdallah, a university president who took over as prime minister of the Palestinian Authority last June, to remain in that role rather than take it on himself. The European Union announced last week that it would continue financial aid to the new government as long as it recognizes Israel, renounces violence and remains committed to a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, however, has vowed never to negotiate with a government even “backed by Hamas.”)
Hamas leaders have made clear that Mr. Abbas’s insistence that the new government accept these conditions does not mean they will give up the gun.
“It’s a dance,” Mr. Barghouti said. “You have one move to the right and one move to the left, but the important thing is we are moving forward. We are moving forward more than ever before.”
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(via NY Times)