Is Fatah/Hamas reconciliation for real?

News item:

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement and its rival Hamas said on Wednesday they had resolved their deep divisions, opening the way for a unity government and national elections. The deal, which took many officials by surprise, was thrashed out in Egypt and followed a series of secret meetings. The two groups hammered out an agreement, setting the stage for forming an interim government as well as fixing a date for a general election. The accord was first reported by Egypt’s intelligence service, which brokered the talks…

Spokespeople for both Hamas and Fatah confirmed that “all differences” have been worked out between the long-feuding Palestinians political movements.

Is this to be believed? Keep in mind, that when Hamas overthrew the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Gaza, some Fatah officials were taken to the top of tall buildings, shot in the knees and dropped off.

Fatah is a secular, Arab nationalist party. It was founded in 1959, and during the period that the Soviet Union supported the Arab states against Israel, took on a Marxist orientation. One of its founders was Yasser Arafat. In 1969, Arafat took over the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which was recognized as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people” by the Oslo accord and which became the dominant power in the Palestinian Authority (PA), the pseudo-government set up by Oslo. Fatah has a ‘military’ (terrorist) wing called the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades from which somehow it manages to distance itself in order to be treated as a legitimate ‘partner’ by Israel and the West.

Despite the viciousness of Hamas and Hizballah, etc., Fatah has probably been responsible for more terrorist murders of Israelis over the years than any other group. But despite the policy clearly enunciated by Fatah and the PLO (including the most recent Fatah convention in 2009) advocating the violent replacement of Israel by an Arab state, it is considered a ‘moderate’ Palestinian organization because its leaders are prepared to make moderate-sounding statements in English.

Although Fatah claims not to be antisemitic or pro-terrorism, the PA media that it controls is full of antisemitism, incitement to murder, and glorification of terrorist ‘martyrs’.

Hamas is an Islamist party. It is explicitly antisemitic and calls for violent jihad against the Jewish state. Unlike Fatah, its spokespersons do not make moderate noises in English, so it is considered beyond the pale by Israel and the West. Hamas believes in strict application of Islamic law, and its reign in Gaza has been marked by persecution of Christians, limitation of the freedom of women, etc. Hamas has been waging war on Israel from its base in Gaza, launching thousands of rockets and trying to kidnap Israelis. Hamas has been holding kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit incommunicado since June of 2006.

Hamas and Fatah have very little in common from an ideological point of view, except a commitment to violent ‘resistance’ against the ‘occupation’, which means a Jewish state of any size between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. The most significant differences between them relate to the kind of Arab society that they would establish in Israel’s place, and the tactics that they have been employing in the struggle with Israel today.

Fatah and Hamas have negotiated on and off since the Hamas coup in Gaza without result. So why are they suddenly able to reach an agreement?

The PA has recently been quite successful in getting various nations to sign on to the idea of a unilateral declaration of statehood according to the 1949 armistice lines. If they can get the UN to call for such a state and a sufficient number of countries recognize it, then they will have their state without having to make any compromises for the sake of Israel — no recognition as a Jewish state, no secure boundaries for Israel, no demilitarization or other security concessions, and, importantly, no agreeing to give up further claims against Israel, including right of return for Arab ‘refugees’. A state like this would immediately be in a position of confrontation with Israel, and I expect that it would immediately become a locus of terrorism.

This would be a big win for the ‘Palestinian movement’ in general, because it will significantly advance the common goal of both groups, which is getting rid of those pesky Jews for once and for all.

But there is a big problem, which is that the Europeans will not agree to recognize such a state under a PA that does not represent all of the ‘Palestinian people’ (40% of them live under Hamas in Gaza). So in order for this to work, it’s necessary to at least give an appearance of reconciliation. I expect also that there will have to be some kind of representation that the new regime, including Hamas, will be peaceful.

Once the state is declared, Hamas and Fatah can go back to struggling for complete control of ‘Palestine’. Palestinian elections are scheduled for 2012, but D-Day for the big push in the UN is September 2011.

My guess is that the agreement will be long on generalizations and short on specifics, and that it will also contain some kind of language designed to soothe the US and Europe, who have in the past refused to recognize a PA that includes Hamas unless Hamas agrees to recognize Israel, renounce violence and accept prior PA agreements (the Oslo accords). Hamas has never been prepared to do these things, but today conditions are especially ‘good':

  • The prize is great — they smell victory
  • The Europeans (and the Palestinians think the US as well) are really pushing for Palestinian unification
  • The atmosphere in Egypt is now much more supportive
  • They know that agreements are made to be broken

It is also possible that there will be a renewed push to get Marwan Barghouti out of Israeli jail, where he is serving a life sentence for multiple murder, because he is considered by many to be the man who can bring the factions together.

What will the Obama Administration do? So far, it has opposed a unilateral declaration of statehood, calling for a negotiated agreement between the parties. Who knows if it will be able to resist the temptation if the Fatah/Hamas ‘reconciliation’ is convincing enough?

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2 Responses to “Is Fatah/Hamas reconciliation for real?”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    Once again you provide an analysis which answers the key question I myself did not have the answer to. i.e. Why now? The idea that this is really a tactical temporary move to get the Europeans and perhaps the Americans to support the U.N. statehood move seems to me correct. I do not think the Americans will go for this, especially as it is a direct slap in the face to the Obama Administration,and in contradiction to long- term American policy.

  2. mrzee says:

    Accepting previous agreements is meaningless. Under the Oslo accords, Hamas was required to do that before taking part in the 2006 elections. The Israelis and PA both objected to Hamas running but Condoleeza Rice insisted. Her brilliant analysts at the State Department assured her Hamas couldn’t win and it would look bad to bar them.

    Hamas is right about one thing, any agreement Israel signs is worthless. Too bad the Israeli government refuses to acknowledge that.