What does "Unity" mean in Palestine?

To say the least, Palestine has a lot of external problems. Many of them are being exposed like never before, and the international discourse on Israel/Palestine has shifted in the past few years, particularly following last summer's devastation in Gaza. Unfortunately, Palestine has a lot of internal problems too, and as any Palestinian will tell you, they generally start with their own government.

In 2005, Mahmoud Abbas of the Fatah party handily beat his independent opponent, Mustafa Barghouti, in the first Palestinian presidential elections to take place since 1996. The elections had problems, including issues with voter turnout and registration, but overall there was a hopeful feeling, especially from the West, who perceived this as (yet another) opportunity to renew peace talks. Abbas was elected to a four-year term, but citing internal instability, extended his term and has essentially just stayed in power ever since. Occasionally, he or some other PA member will mention elections "coming soon," but it's clear that they are not actually coming anytime soon and, importantly, no obvious successor to Abbas has emerged since his time in power (and he's done a decent job of squelching any particularly loud voices that might rise to that level).

Things have mostly stagnated since then, with Hamas maintaining a stronghold on Gaza and Abbas continuously delaying elections in the West Bank. The fracture between Gaza and the West Bank, as well as the political unrest within the West Bank itself, gave Israel a prime excuse to claim it could not negotiate in good faith with the PA about the future of a Palestinian state. 

Last summer, in an effort to quell this criticism and show a united Palestinian front, a consensus government between the PA and Hamas was announced. Although skepticism was high and many issues were left unaddressed, it was a potential first step in uniting the geographical and political divisions between Gaza and the West Bank. Israel immediately criticized the step, saying Abbas was now colluding with Hamas terrorists, and even condemned the US for their initial support of the process. This criticism showed that their lack of willingness to negotiate with a divided Palestinian government was not sincere. However, not to worry! In the year since the unity government was announced, they have been anything but united, with public squabbles and disagreements over security, payments and other issues, numerous threats to dissolve the "union," and nothing positive to really show for it, including a Gaza Strip that is still in shambles.

I don't know if it's possible for Palestinians, whether from the West Bank or Gaza, living as a refugee in a neighboring country, or in the general diaspora, to be any more frustrated with the situation. But this is a particular type of painful disappointment. It is not enough to be seen as terrorists, instigators, troublemakers, or even non-existent from the rest of the world- our own "governments" can't even get their act together to represent our very basic and human needs and desires. They won't allow elections that might bring about actual change or hope. Political reform is desperately needed, but those who hold the keys to such processes are loathe to give them up. And in the meantime, occupation persists, division deepens, and the already untenable status quo gets even worse. How many times can we hear "economy of Gaza on the verge of collapse!" How many more political prisoners will go on hunger strikes, how many more homes will be demolished, how many more children will die? 

There are so many divisions within the Palestinian people. Many are brought on us by external factors, some even physical- roadblocks, checkpoints, and the like. But the ones that are internal- they are perhaps the most frustrating of all. We have a righteous cause. We have the support of many around the world. But if we cannot get our act together and unite to face the many real obstacles that surround us with pragmatic reform, what hope do we have?