In Gaza, Hamas and Fatah Move Toward Rapprochement

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Views from the Region

September 28, 2017

Ten years ago, Hamas took over Gaza and set up a parallel government rivaling that of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. Now Hamas has expressed willingness to turn over control of the territory to the PA. The move comes months after the PA tightened the screws on the Hamas-led government by cutting back on the payment of public officials in Gaza and reducing electricity supply into Gaza. Given the failure of similar reunifications in the past, many have approached the latest news with skepticism. Still, there are some who hold out hope that perhaps Palestinians can finally approach peace talks in the future as a unified body, rather than working at cross-purposes.


The idea comes at a time when the standing of Fatah and President Mahmoud Abbas among Gazans continues to decline, as reported in a recent public opinion survey by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research: “Gazans are moving away from Fatah and the Palestinian leadership in an unprecedented way and without a parallel or similar process among West Bankers. President Abbas might have hoped that the sanctions he imposed on the Gaza Strip would force Gazans to reject Hamas and its policies forcing Hamas to dismantle its ‘Administrative Committee’ that has served as a de facto government for the Gaza Strip. Despite the limited decline in Hamas’ popularity in this poll, it is plainly clear that Gazans are directing their greatest anger at Abbas and Fatah, rather than Hamas. Today, 80% of Gazans want Abbas’ resignation, satisfaction with the performance of the president is about 20%, and it is certain that he would lose any presidential elections in the Gaza Strip to Hamas’ Ismael Haniyeh. Moreover, Fatah is fast losing its popularity in the Gaza Strip, standing at 28% today compared to 40% only nine months ago.”

According to Ma’an News, the gesture by Hamas has been received positively by the Fatah leadership, though distrust between the two sides remains high: “The cabinet, headed by Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, affirmed that the PA government has ‘prepared plans to handle all aspects of life in the Gaza Strip and will carry out its duties towards Palestinians in Gaza and lessen their suffering’…. Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhum previously said that Abbas must now ‘cancel all punitive measures that have been taken against Palestinians in Gaza’, requesting that Abbas and the Fatah movement allow the PA government to undertake all of its responsibilities in the Gaza Strip ‘without any procrastination’.”

Meanwhile, in a recent editorial, the Jordan Times staff drew attention to the fact that real winners of these reconciliatory gestures are the Palestinian people, especially those living in Gaza: “The decade of hardships suffered by the people of Gaza must have made Hamas realize that the split with the PA does not serve the Palestinian people. Adding to the hardships, in its attempt to force Hamas to give up control on Gaza, Abbas made things worse for the population of the strip, reducing the supply of electricity to the strip to between two and four hours a day, cutting the salaries of Gaza government employees and preventing Gazans from seeking medical care in the West Bank or in Israel…. One hopes, for the sake of the Palestinians already suffering under the brutal Israeli occupation, that a unity government is indeed formed and that it will assume the awesome responsibility of helping Gazans resume a normal life, as normal as that could be in the open-air prison they are being held in by Israel.”

Al Jazeera’s Daoud Kuttab sees the gesture as an important first step, but one that needs to be followed by real sacrifices from both sides: “The only way to resolve the current stalemate is for Hamas to swallow its pride and allow Abbas’s presidential guards back in control of the terminals in and out of the Strip and follow up on all other aspects of past reconciliation agreements. Most importantly, Hamas needs to hold presidential and parliamentary elections in Gaza. Once such elections are held, the PLO should be reformed to include Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. A reformed and unified PLO can hold a Palestine National Council session and such a meeting can set an agreed on national strategy and elect those who will carry on the torch in the post-Abbas era.”

Others question the real motivation behind Hamas’ move, arguing, as Jordan Times’s Hassan Barari does, that it is still too early to determine whether Hamas leadership has had a real “change of heart”: “After years of futile attempts to impose the winners-take-all politics, Hamas eventually and officially adopted a paradigm shift. While few observers have understanding of the opaque politics of the internal working of Hamas, it seems that the recent change in the balance of power within the organization has helped moderates find common ground with Fateh. To be sure, Hamas and Fateh have overlapping, though not identical, interests at stake in the long-overdue reconciliation. For the majority of Palestinians, the surreal intra-Palestinian conflict has been disheartening…. Looking at the new development from a different perspective, Hamas’ new move is anchored in its desire for political survival. Hence, it remains to be seen whether Hamas’ new approach reflects a change of heart or simply a new ploy.”

In an op-ed for Yedioth Ahronoth, Elior Levy suggests that Hamas’ real motivation lies in removing the embargo and forcing the hand of the Palestinian Authority president: “In its decision to dismantle the committee, Hamas basically moved the ball into Abbas’ court. The announcement conveys to the Palestinians, the Egyptians and whoever else it may concern, that Hamas is extending its hand in peace and doing everything it has been asked to do by Cairo. The organization also demanded an implementation of the reconciliation agreement and called (again) for elections. This move embarrasses Abbas, who is now facing an important test. He must now cancel the sanctions and restore the situation in Gaza, which will cost him quite a lot of money. A refusal to lift all the sanctions would portray him as a rejectionist and place him in a very negative light, especially vis-à-vis Egypt, whose relations with Abbas are already unstable.”
Jerusalem Post’s Alex Benjamin offers a similar analysis, but sees Iran as the main actor behind the change in tone: “While Abbas may have studied the Corleone family playbook in his dealings with Hamas, and while his initiative appears to have borne fruit, we think that this may just be a strategic move on the part of Hamas. The bad blood between both ‘families’ runs too deep…. How all of this plays out would simply be conjecture, but we can say that the Palestinian political and militant dynamic is most certainly in a state of evolving and potentially even more dangerous flux. So, while the PA leadership may be collectively patting itself on the back, they should beware of hubris. Hamas are not only adept at playing the long game, unlike the PA they also appear to have a long-term strategy. At the back of it all is Iran. The Tehran regime appears to be extending one of its many fetid tentacles and upping its ante in a dangerous, febrile Middle- East arena: the tinder box that is the Gaza Strip.”

The main question for some remains whether a unified Palestinian front would produce better results in peace talks, and if so, what role regional actors like Egypt can play in that process. Samar Samir writing for Egypt Today, noting the Egyptian president’s recent call: “Sisi’s call for following the Egyptian experience of peace process has been issued in May 2016, saying that the 40-year-old treaty had “real peace and opened a new brightening chapter in the regions’ history.” His message was repeated for the Israelis at the United Nation General Assembly meetings in 2016, saying that Israel has a real chance towards peace via repeating the Egyptian experience to solve the Palestinians’ cause and establishing their state beside the Israeli state….[But], following the Egyptian-Israeli peace example boils down to whether Israel can accept Hamas in the talks or not, and whether it would actually seize building settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to allow the Palestinians to establish their state on the borders of 1967.”

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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