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Samah Ahmad is cautious about the reconciliation saying she will believe it when she sees it. / Kate Shuttleworth, USA TODAY

BETHLEHEM, The West Bank ?? When hundreds of supporters of the Islamist Palestinian group Hamas marched recently through the streets of the West Bank, it represented the first time in 10 years that its rival group Fatah had allowed a march of that size.

The march was supposed to be a display of how the Palestinians of the West Bank and the Palestinians in Gaza were now a united people in the quest for a state of their own.

But the reconciliation deal made between the two sides recently did not inspire optimism among all Palestinians. who have been struggling under a poor economy and whose leaders failed yet again to advance negotiations with Israel for an independent state.

"Reconciliation isn't possible because each party wants to be in charge and they're too far apart politically," said Jihan Yasser, a student at Bethlehem University seated in the university's flowering garden.

"While Fatah is into peace negotiations, Hamas wields its control through religion. Though one can hope for unity, their methods seem to be incompatible," she said.

Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh agreed in April to form a unity government after the two parties waged a bitter battle in 2007 for control of two separate territories bordering Israel in which more than 4 million Palestinians live.

That year, Hamas seized Gaza and killed several Fatah backers, causing a split that has remained for nearly eight years. Hamas was designated a terrorist group by the European Union and United States, and its leaders launched a campaign to eliminate Israel, periodically firing barrages of rockets into Israel that led to a major war in 2008.

At the same time, Fatah's Palestinian Authority in Ramallah on the West Bank became the official entity that the West dealt with on Palestinian issues. It was showered with financial aid, and Israel agreed to talk about a framework for an independent Palestinian state.

But many parts of the West Bank remained under Israeli military control to prevent a return to the terror attacks that killed hundreds of Israelis. Palestinians must endure Israeli checkpoints following two violent uprisings. They cannot travel freely to Israel without a hard-to-obtain Israeli travel permit.

In Gaza, which Israel withdrew from in 2005, Hamas stocked up on missiles from Iran and elsewhere to continue its aim of wiping out Israel, while in the West Bank the Palestinian Authority pressed Jerusalem for a negotiated settlement of their differences.

But last month, Israel suspended U.S.-backed peace talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after his deal with Hamas.

Some Palestinians say the attempt to unify will help the cause of a Palestinian state.

"We've been waiting a long time, years for this to happen," said Rehab Kenan in Gaza City. "We thank our leaders for the happiness they have brought us.

"I have two sons and this reconciliation will offer work and build their future," she said.

Gaza's government says unemployment is as high as 40% and construction work has slowed since the toppling of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt by the Egyptian military, which has closed smuggling tunnels between the two countries.

Palestinian Contractors Union Chairman Nabil Abu Muaileq says he represents 300 construction companies, of which only 20 are able to work. Hamas lost $230 million in revenue from the tunnel operators.

The isolated coastal enclave has also been dealing with the loss of fuel and the shutdown of Gaza's only power plant, causing power outages sometimes lasting up to 12 hours.

"It's created a huge problem for our people," Muaileq said, adding that he hoped the reconciliation deal would come with Fatah funds to create jobs for thousands of Gazans.

Samah Ahmad was skeptical about the benefits.

"I will believe in it if I touch it on the ground," she said. "We're still looking for freedom; we're still looking for humanity. We want to feel we are one. I will believe it when I see it."

It is hard to know what the Palestinian people feel about the actions of their leaders. While both sides talked of holding new elections, neither has allowed them in years out of fear that too many votes would go to the rival. The Palestinians are essentially living in a dictatorship in both territories.

More than 80% of Palestinians polled in late March by the Institute of the Arab World for Research and Development said they want national legislative and presidential elections to take place immediately. In the same poll, 50% of respondents felt Fatah and Hamas would form a unity government, but 47% did not.

At the recent reconciliation march in the West Bank, uniformed and plainclothes police watched over Hamas supporters who yelled "Revenge!" and "Strike Tel Aviv!"

On the other hand, Fatah supporters passed out leaflets saying, "Let there not be any excuse to divide members of the united Palestinian family. We live now in an atmosphere of reconciliation."

"The two parties have had eight years to reconcile, but they haven't," says Nader Saeed, director of AWRAD.

"People have doubts about the parties' timing and motives and wonder if they are motivated more by duress than a desire for true unity," he said.

"There needs to be real discussion on the amalgamation of ministries, on security coordination, on elections and a political platform. Photo ops without real work make people skeptical."

In Bethlehem, where workers were filling in potholes ahead of Pope Francis's visit at the end of May, taxi driver Murrat Wachash said he doesn't believe the reconciliation will pan out.

"Fatah will not want to share its power, prestige or the funding it receives from the international community, which considers Hamas an extremist group," he said.

Ali Salah, a tour guide, was feeling more optimistic.

"Fatah and Hamas are like brothers who have fought but who know want to get back together. Divided we accomplish nothing. United we can finally work toward having our own country," Salah said.

Shuttleworth reported from Gaza.



Copyright 2014 USATODAY.com

Read the original story: Palestinians unite, but what will come of it?

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