KHALED Meshaal’s return to Palestinian soil after 45 years comes in the wake of some positive developments for his people, though challenges still lie ahead. First, Israel called off its ground invasion, deterred as much by international pressures as by the determination of the Palestinians not to surrender to force. Second, Palestinians won a resounding victory last month at the UN where the majority of the General Assembly’s members voted ‘yes’ to give Palestine non-state member status. Mr Meshaal is a hero to his people. Co-founder of Hamas, Mr Meshaal assumed the resistance movement’s leadership after its other founder, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, was murdered by Israelis. Now based in Damascus, Mr Meshaal, who himself survived an assassination attempt by the Mossad in Jordan, has turned Hamas into an organisation that combines political and military activities with extensive social welfare work in Gaza. The apogee of Hamas’s power came when it swept the polls for the Palestinian legislative assembly in 2006, routing Fatah. In this lay the seeds of disunity and fratricide, because Fatah did not reconcile to the lapse of its traditional monopoly over the Palestinian people. The civil war that followed led to Gaza’s ‘secession’ from the West Bank.
Today, Gaza and the West Bank are working under two different administrations. This has reduced Palestinian territories to two cantons which have no status in international law. Mahmoud Abbas was the man behind Oslo. To him also goes the credit for Palestine’s diplomatic victory at the UN last month. Mr Meshaal’s first-ever visit to Gaza on the 25th anniversary of Hamas’s founding provides them with the right moment to bury the hatchet and unite in the interest of their people. They should know Palestinian unity is the prerequisite for a united struggle for ending the Israeli occupation of their land.