Commentary

The Fatah / Hamas Reconciliation

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

The announced-but-not-yet-consummated reconciliation of perennial Palestinian political adversaries Fatah and Hamas has dominated the conversation in the regional media lately. The move for greater unity among the ranks of Palestinian political forces came at a time when peace talks are floundering and only days before the deadline for an agreement or an extension of peace talks. The move came as a surprise and put pressure on the Israeli government, which was quick to condemn the talks between Fatah and Hamas. Many feel that Abbas’s reconciliatory gestures toward Hamas have given Netanyahu the perfect justification for ending the peace talks. Judging from the moribund state of the negotiations, however, the Palestinian president may prefer building internal cohesion over keeping the Israelis talking.  

According to a Maan News report, the initial reaction among the Palestinians has been a positive one, with many being quick to point out that this was strictly an internal matter that should not concern anyone but the Palestinian people: “PLO reconciliation delegations from both Fatah and Hamas said on Thursday that the countdown for the formation of a unity government had begun, hailing the end of seven years of Palestinian political division....Bassam al-Salhi, another member of the reconciliation delegation, told Ma'an that ‘the legal framework of forming the unity government is supposed to begin and it is up to President Abbas to decide how it should be done.’...He also said that ‘Israeli opinion has no place in this because reconciliation is a top priority for Palestinians.’ Regarding the negotiations meetings that Israel cancelled, al-Salhi said ‘we were relieved for not attending a pointless meeting in which Israel would fail and the US would be biased to Israel.’”

Others, on the other hand, don’t see the reconciliation effort as a move with solely internal implications. In a statement posted by the Palestinian news site Wafa, “Member of PLO Executive Committee Hanan ‘Ashrawi stated Thursday that national unity is a basic prerequisite for empowering the Palestinian state and people and for reinforcing means of popular resistance, including the boycott of Israeli occupation and its settlements. ‘Ashrawi called upon the Palestinian people to promote the implementation of reconciliation deal, which she considered as the first of a series of steps that are based on a specific action plan and timetable.”

The Qatari government, which has been under pressure from the Gulf countries for its support of the Muslim Brotherhood, has also expressed its support for Palestinian unity efforts: “’Considering the agreement as an important national achievement and strategic choice, the State of Qatar will always be, as it has ever been, ready to assist in taking this agreement to its ultimate goals,’ the official Qatar News Agency (QNA) said. ‘The State of Qatar supports all the efforts which aim to ending the division and achieving the unity of the Palestinian people to serve their interests and realize their aspirations of political freedom and the establishment of the Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem,’ it said”

There has been some concern expressed about what a Fatah-Hamas government would mean for the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, but judging from the Daily Star’s (Lebanon) editorial, it seems that peace talks were already headed for a standstill in any case: “Israel’s reaction is understandable – Israeli strength flows from Palestinian weakness and in recent years, nothing has symbolized this weakness more than the existence of dueling political entities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip....As for the peace talks, the term itself has become objectionable. Two decades after the Oslo Accords, hopes for a durable, fair peace have faded further and further into the distance as the territory controlled by Palestinians shrinks and shrinks. But Washington’s reaction is truly disappointing....If Washington ever wants to be seen as honest peace broker, it should avoid adopting the exact same stance as the country whose modus operandi has been one of divide and conquer.”

For some on the Israeli side, meanwhile, the new agreement between the two Palestinian factions  revealed Abbas’s true face. Yedioth Ahronoth’s Guy Bechor, for example, suggests that the Fatah’s willingness to work with Hamas ended the “illusion of peace-seeking Abbas…. Mahmoud Abbas' decision to join forces with the Hamas terror organization, whether it happens or not, is nothing other than a slap in the face of anyone who saw him as a ‘partner,’ and especially the American administration, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the European Union. It can even be seen as humiliation....Until now, European money has been flowing to the PA unconditionally and unsupervised, but new legislation by the European Parliament plenum on April 3, 2014 has set some conditions. This effectively puts an end to the PA, as its aid to terrorists will be exposed. This is the reason for Abbas running into Hamas' arms - the knowledge that the money will dry up regardless.”

Others focused on the fact that Abbas’s move couldn’t have come at a better time for Netanyahu, saving him the embarrassment of a failed peace process. It is in this vein that Gil Hoffman argues in a recent op-ed for the Jerusalem Post: “When this week began, it looked like Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition was doomed....The deal Abbas reached with Hamas was the best present he could have given Netanyahu, short of a nuclear-free Iran. Instead of having to make difficult concessions to keep the Palestinians at the negotiating table, Netanyahu got to go on CNN and MSNBC and declare that Abbas had proven he was uninterested in peace.”

Ron Ben-Yishai focuses on yet another dimension of what he sees as a zero-sum relationship, wondering which of the two political forces — Fatah or Hamas — comes out the winner from this recent turn of events: “When one examines the articles of the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah, one can quickly understand that this is an old soup that has been reheated. The agreement the two sides signed was to implement previous agreements on internal Palestinian unity....Hamas is the agreement's biggest winner....The unity deal signed Wednesday gives Hamas international legitimacy, which could allow it to receive aid and donations to help it extract itself from the crippling crisis threatening both its rule and the wellbeing of Gaza's people.... It's fair to say that the implementation of the agreement hinges one thing - if Israel and the Palestinians reach a deal to extend talks. If a deal is reached, then the unity agreement will evaporate as quickly as it came together. If no such deal is reached, Abbas will continue to work with Hamas until it all implodes, yet again.”

Ultimately, the main question is whether the deal between Hamas and Fatah will be good for Palestine. As the Peninsula editorial puts it, if the lack of Palestinian unity is to be blamed for the improvement of the plight of the Palestinian people, then the current political reconciliation can only be a good thing: “Lack of Palestinian unity has been one of the biggest obstacles on the road to Palestinian freedom. With Hamas and Fatah behaving like enemies and ruling their respective territories of Gaza and West bank, the impression created was that of two states rather than one....Past attempts to bring the Palestinian factions closer had failed due to deep differences between the two sides, and if both have decided to seal a deal now, it’s a result of the internal problems they are facing....Fatah and Hamas have only started the journey towards reconciliation. It’s a long and pot-holed road ahead. The outcome will depend on their commitment and willingness to make sacrifices for a common cause.”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.