By SHABINA S. KHATRI
A whopping 89 percent of Monday’s Doha Debates audience said that they have no confidence in the current Palestinian leadership.
The vote was a predictable end to a highly entertaining but unproductive evening in which rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah traded barbs about Arab unity (or lack thereof), interference from outside governments and resistance against the Israeli occupation.
Though both parties agreed that reconciliation between them was necessary, they presented no clear picture of how to accomplish that goal.
“The Palestinian people are not suicidal. They want to live like every free people.”
- Nabil Shaath, Fatah representative
“Nothing worse can hurt a beleaguered people than disunity,” said Nabil Shaath, the chief negotiator for the Palestine Liberation Organization and a representative of Fatah, to which President Mahmoud Abbas belongs.
“We have to take responsibility,” he added, urging Hamas to sign an agreement with Fatah ahead of an Arab summit in Libya later this month. But Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, said it would return to the negotiating table only if outside influences were banned from it.
“We are trying to reach an agreement with all Palestinian factions, in particular our brothers in Fatah movement,” said Mohammed Nazal, a Hamas spokesman. But meddling from the U.S. and Israel is not appreciated, he added.
“The only way for the future is to sit down to meaningful dialogue with no pre-conditions,” he said.
Leaders from both groups were also confronted with emotional appeals and accusations from an audience of about 350 people, mostly Arab youth, seeking answers about what lies ahead for the Palestinian people.
How can we trust you? Why continue a failed strategy? How can you call yourselves brothers with so much fighting?
Shaath sought to calm the crowd by pleading for patience.
“It’s really hard to fight the Israeli occupation,” he said. “They have international support and a strategic alliance with the U.S.”
“Our struggle is a long struggle,” he later added, outlining plans to put international pressure on Israel by employing a campaign similar to South Africa’s apartheid movement.
As the debate unfolded and tensions rose, both the panelists and the audience had difficulty maintaining composure.
The discussion at times veered off into the comical, as when a college-age audience member asked the leaders when they would step down and let a new generation take the reins.
“I believe we are the new generation of Palestine,” 45-year-old Hamas representative Osama Hamdan responded, drawing jeers from the audience.
At one point, decorum between the panelists and debates chairman Tim Sebastian completely dissolved, and the men became engaged in a shouting match over the Palestinian right to resistance.
“We are a people that has a cause that is fighting the (Israeli) occupation,” said Abdullah Abdullah, a senior Fatah spokesman. “We will continue the resistance under all circumstances.”
But, added Shaath in response to a call from Hamdan to return to military resistance, “It’s also your right to choose the way you want to conduct your resistance. The Palestinian people are not suicidal. They want to live like every free people.”