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Israel-Palestine war: Hamas chief Haniyeh calls for Palestinian unity and elections

Hamas political chief says war against Israel presents an opportunity to reorganise Palestine Liberation Organisation to 'include everyone'
Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh addresses crowd at Freedom for Palestine conference in Istanbul on 14 January 2024 (MEE)
By Dania Akkad in Istanbul, Turkey

Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh has called for Palestinian unity under a reorganised Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) that would “include everyone” as the 100th day of war, which has left over 24,100 killed, passed in Gaza.

After a period under a national unity government, Haniyeh said elections should be held, arguing that the longest-ever battle in Gaza has created an opportunity for the divided Palestinian factions to come together.

“The fighters on 7 October brought down the wall. Therefore, I want to call [for] you to tear down the walls around you that prevent you from reaching Palestine,” Haniyeh said on Sunday, speaking at a pro-Palestinian conference in Istanbul.

“Now it is time to put all the causes on the table. Do not let this moment slip from our hands.”

A member of Fatah’s Central Committee, who also spoke to the conference on Sunday evening, echoed calls for Palestinian unity.

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“After 7 October, there is no way to have differences on anything,” Abbas Zaki told about 300 attendees.

“It is time for us to recognise who our enemies are and to confront them.”

'It is time for us to recognise who our enemies are and to confront them'

Abbas Zaki, Fatah  Central Committee member

In a separate interview with Middle East Eye, Zaki said the majority of Fatah members shared his viewpoint. Fatah officials had told the Americans, he added, that if a ceasefire could be agreed, the Palestinians “between us will reorganise and present a solution for the world”.

He also said the next meeting of Fatah - which had been scheduled for late last year, but was postponed - could be the first “without the influence of Israel”.

If Israel attempted to intervene, the party would move the gathering to Beirut or elsewhere outside of Palestine which he said would only push the leadership to share his viewpoint.

Fatah, led by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, is the dominant faction within both the PLO and the Ramallah-based PA.

Hamas and Fatah have vied for influence in the occupied Palestinian territories since Hamas, led by Haniyeh, won parliamentary elections in 2006. Fatah refused to recognise the result, and Hamas subsequently took control of Gaza in 2007 following fighting between the two parties' armed groups.

Challenges ahead

The comments follow others made by senior Hamas and Fatah officials in recent weeks pointing towards renewed interest in bringing Hamas into the coalition which represents most Palestinian factions.

Last month, Mousa Abu Marzouk, head of Hamas' international relations office based in Doha, suggested to Al Monitor that Hamas would recognise Israel if it joined the PLO.

“You should follow the official stance,” he reportedly said. “The official stance is that the [PLO] has recognised the state of Israel.”

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Some observers have cautioned that reviving the PLO will require more than bringing Hamas or even Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which are both proscribed by the UK, the US and the European Union as terrorist organisations, under its umbrella.

Analysts with Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian policy network, say the PA has “effectively whittled down the PLO to a barren institution serving primarily its own interests rather than those of the Palestinian people as a whole, as was originally intended”.

Haniyeh’s comments came as the death toll in Gaza reached 24,000, with at least 7,000 missing and more than 60,000 injured in the Israeli assault launched following the surprise attack on southern Israel by Hamas and other groups on 7 October. About 1,140 people died in those attacks.

“There are families in the hundreds that have disappeared from the civil registry. Eighty-two members are in one family,” he acknowledged.

Hamas's political wing has been involved in negotiations in Qatar and Egypt over pauses in fighting, and the release of Israeli hostages seized on 7 October and held since then in Gaza.

Haniyeh, who is based in Doha, welcomed the case South Africa has filed at the International Court of Justice and its demands for an emergency suspension of Israel's military campaign. But he also said Hamas was prepared to continue fighting.

"The question is how much more ammunition do they have? Are they ready for months and months?" he said.

"I would say yes. When someone goes into a war like this, it is not spontaneously. It is with planning."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to continue fighting to eliminate Hamas in Gaza despite widespread calls for a ceasefire and condemnation of Israel over the scale of civilian casualties.

In a televised speech on Saturday to mark 100 days since the start of the war, Netanyahu said: "We will not compromise on anything less than total victory."

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