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Fatah Chooses Hamas

Will reconciliation doom or help the statehood cause?

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Yesterday, Fatah and Hamas—the former more moderate and ruling the West Bank, the latter more radical and ruling Gaza—announced that secret talks, brokered by Egypt, led to a landmark deal for the two Palestinian rivals to form a transitional unity government to be followed, in roughly a year, by elections. Given how much the two sides despise each other and how many of their interests seem to clash (Fatah is essentially a secular Western-backed Sunni autocracy rhetorically committed to the peace process, while Hamas is a religious Iranian-funded paramilitary organization rhetorically committed to Israel’s destruction), don’t count on an alliance until you really see it happen. Last time there were elections, these groups warred with each other. Fatah cooperates with Israel and the West, and yesterday the Fatah-controlled Palestine Liberation Organization maintained it was “committed to the peace process;” yesterday, Hamas vowed the national unity government will neither talk to Israel nor even recognize it. There are more than just “I”s to be dotted. Still, this is a big deal.

Soon after the announcement, Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned the deal, noting that “The Palestinian Authority”—the West Bank body controlled by the political party Fatah—“has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas.” An Obama administration spokesperson did not offer quite such a sound bite, but did reiterate the U.S. position that Hamas is a terrorist group. The State Department said that any Palestinian government must “renounce violence,” which, well, Hamas took responsibility for launching rockets at Israeli civilian targets only last month.

For one thing, this is probably not a good day for backers of P.A. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and his (arguably) successful state-building in the West Bank. Not only is he likely to be pushed aside (seen as overly moderate and close to the West, he is not even a member of Fatah!), the stream of U.S. aid money he has depended on is likely to slow as vocally pro-Israel U.S. politicians have already started to question continuing to send money to an entity that, after all, would now contain elements of an organization the U.S. itself deems a terrorist group. “Some commentators worried Hamas entering the Palestinian government would imperil the Palestinian institution-building,” Laura Rozen reported.

What brought this about? There had been a popular movement, which saw itself as part of the broader Arab spring, in the Palestinian territories—and especially in Gaza, where Hamas attempted to quell it, at times violently—to have just such unity. Hamas may therefore have felt the heat of its people, the Gaza Palestinians. Fatah’s problem, meanwhile, was not that its people, the West Bank Palestinians, wished for their rulers to unify with Hamas, but rather they wished for their rulers to be Hamas, at least if the most recent elections were any indication. Moreover, Fatah’s loss of a major patron in Hosni Mubarak and Hamas’s potential loss of a major patron in Bashar Assad surely helped spur this deal.

Anyway, if P.A. President Abbas were to choose between peace with Hamas and peace with Israel, it is at least worth pointing out that, until yesterday, he had neither. And you could argue that a united front puts the Palestinians into a more advantageous position should they attempt to seek statehood through the United Nations.

Alternatively, you could argue it puts the Palestinians into a less advantageous position, because the Americans and the Israelis will have an easier case to make against statehood if sovereignty is being handed to Hamas. Last week, I called the group the “inconvenient fact of the peace process” because it was essentially being looked over, the elephant in the room that was eventually going to have to be dealt with. If it is on center stage, its inconvenience—which is to say, its intransigence and ideological refusal to recognize Israel—will become that much more obvious.

As for whether this deal will have ended up hastening Israel’s withdrawal from the territories, which influential columnist Aluf Benn predicted before yesterday’s announcement, or obviating it, time will tell.

What’s surreal about the reaction to this, particularly the shock among the Israelis and the American politicians and, okay, even spectators such as myself, is that something like this was always going to happen. It had to. The Palestinian “side” of the peace process was only one of two major groups that jockeys for the Palestinian people’s sympathy, and the other group is at least as popular as well as unacceptable to most American politicians and certainly to the Israeli mainstream. So the great service Fatah and Hamas did everyone yesterday was to, as they say, heighten the contradictions.

Fatah and Hamas Announce Outline of Deal [NYT]
U.S.: Any Palestinian Government Must Renounce Violence, Recognize Israel [Haaretz]
Washington, Israel Wary As Progress Reported on Palestinian Reconciliation Deal [The Envoy]
Reconciliation Deal by Rival Factions Forces U.S. to Reconsider Aid to Palestinians [NYT]
Earlier: Hamas Launches Barrage, and Signs Its Name
Hamas, P.A. Crack Down on Unity Protests
Statehood Threat Looming, Talks Called For

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I’m not sure I would be so quick to characterize Hamas’s acceptability to the Israeli mainstream. Israeli pollster Dahlia Scheindlin pointed out some interesting numbers from as recent as 2010 that suggest that a bare majority, or at least a very large minority, of Israelis would still be willing to negotiate with a Palestinian coalition that included Hamas (under the right circumstances.) Link: http://972mag.com/hamas-fatah-reconciliation-what-does-it-mean/

Key bit: “The Israeli public has long demonstrated its grudging willingness to negotiate with a government that includes Hamas, for the sake of advancing peace. A Truman Center survey from March 2007, for example, showed an absolute 55% majority of Jews who said Israel should negotiate with a coalition that includes Hamas, in order to reach a compromise on the conflict – and 59% of all Israelis (poll #19). In June 2010, just after the traumatic flotilla events, 49% of all Israelis still supported negotiating with Hamas (42% of Jews – still high, considering that tensions were perhaps at their highest level – poll #32). In the most recent Truman Institute survey from March 2011, 47% of Jews support negotiating with a Hamas government, and 53% of all Israelis.
Those questions tested the notion of negotiations with a Hamas led government; it’s likely that there is even higher support for negotiating with a Hamas-Fatah coalition for the sake of peace.”

That doesn’t make it a popular idea, but it’s a lot less unpopular than I first guessed. Sounds like you might be making the same mistake.

anotherJew says:

I am not sure where this really goes – who chooses the “independent leaders”? Does the transitional govt maintain the current PA stance toward Israel? Can it negotiate? Abbas says he will still control policy toward Israel – did Hamas REALLY agree to that? Will the transitional govt really get to control security in Gaza? What will happen when the trans govt releases Hamas prisoners? What happens when there is pre-election violence?

This represents panic – Fatah losing Mubarak, Hamas afraid its about to lose Assad. I suspect it won’t last.

That said, does it make sense for Bibi to denounce it right away? Better to say “we must wait and see” and not take hits for opposing what some naive people will see as a hope.

As for Israelis being willing to talk to hamas – well yes, WHEN hamas revises its charter calling for Israels destruction, its endorsement of the “protocols of the elders of zion”, etc, etc. Is that part of the agreement?

This is similar to bringing Nazis into the government in Germany in 1933. I wonder how the hypocrites from the western Europe will react, particularly if such “government” will declare independent state in September. The development might also tell something about “peace partners” to our silly “vegetarians”, however, judging by their past actions, I doubt they have the ability to learn in general. On another hand – it is not the first time when Hamas and Fatah made an agreement: in 2007 they also did and declared it to be “final”. We’ll see how it will go.

@anotherJew

What’s surprising to me is that Israelis’ willingness to negotiate with Hamas didn’t seem to be conditioned on a change in charter. I’m not sure of the wisdom of that one way or the other, but there you have it.

I’m not sure that a resolution to a negotiation that has been going on for years now can properly be called a ‘panic’, and in my view the contradictory messages coming from the Hamas and Fatah camp look less like disorganization to me, and more like a final bit of jockeying for influence/power before the parties sign on the dotted line. But I agree with you that this raises many more questions than it answers, in general.

“The Palestinian people wanted their rulers to be Hamas.” Marc this is a misreading of a several years old election that delivered a split electorate. It is safe to say that Palestinians presumably wanted their democratic rights respected by Israel which they have not been. Unity in contrast polls much better than Hamas or Fatah. Also did Abbas really have a “choice ” of a deal from Netanyahu?

Jason says:

While Hamas may have felt pressure from that popular movement calling for reconciliation, it seems equally if not more likely that it fears the fall of its patron Assad in Syria and is hedging its bets/ensuring that it’s not entirely isolated in the event that Assad’s regime does fall.

Binyamin in O says:

What this article does not say is that Hamas is losing support on the Palestinian street. Fatah clearly has the upper hand in this deal.

“Support In Gaza For Hamas and Iran Is Dropping Poll Shows”
http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?ID=196040

And J Post is not exactly a left wing rag.

@Binyanin, poll is from November.,also what is the evidence that new Syrian leaders would be anti-Hamas? How would anyone know , given our general level of ignorance?

Yigal Gafni says:

The Palestinians are followers of the Zionist movement (they used to have a very good archive on Zionist documents in Beirut, until it was captured in 1982). Last year they re-scripted Exodus, in the form of the Mavi Mermera, this year, the theme is Tnuat Hamered A Ivri – the chapter where all the underground militias united, at least for a while. Yes, Altalena will be next, but this chapter will bring them closer to independence. Israel can help, instead of spreading fear and running scared, for example, releasing Marwan Bargouti from jail will put him in the forefront of the PNA, hurting Hamas chances in the West Bank. Of course, the dynamic duo, Bibi and Ivette, with Peres as Greek Chorus, prefer that Hamas will take over the west Bank and no deal can be achieved. I believe they are wrong.
Hamas will probably play along the diplomatic tune and eventually, like Arafat in the late 80’s, will recognize Israel in the 67 borders. Israel should lend a hand to this move, instead of pissing against the wind, like what Bibi is doing, in order to save his coalition with the despicable Lieberman.

Gene says:

Today Yediot Achronot:
We prefer Hamas over Israel’
Top Fatah official Tawfiq Tirawi says Palestinian people prefer unity over peace deal with Israel

Senior Fatah official Tawfiq Tirawi said that the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation will promote Palestinian interests ahead of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ planned statehood bid in September, making it “more important than peace with Israel.”

“If Israel thinks we have to choose between peace with it and peace with Hamas – any Palestinian you ask will tell you we prefer Palestinian unity over peace with Israel,” he said.

Alter says:

The train is leaving the station. Of course Hamas and Fatah will unite and united will gain statehood in the UN. Israel’s continued dependency for its long term existence on its continued ability to bribe the US Congress is foolhardy. Israel instead must use its considerable brainpower to replicate the miracle of Israel in the neighboring arab land starting with the west bank and Gaza. Surely Israel will succeed as business partners with its arab neighbors; it cannot prevail militarily against them.

theMoja says:

I’m wondering how much people know about early American history? From the Indians’ point of view. After gaining a foothold, different European invaders fought & squabbled among themselves for control over the land. Dutch against English against French–did I miss anyone? Anyway, much blood was shed over a couple hundred years, all sides at one time or another enlisting the armed aid of various First Nation peoples desperate to hang on to their land. I think, in hindsight, our biggest mistake was to trust people who lied to & betrayed us with bogus treaties, & to assume that we were seen as human beings, as equals, worthy of honesty & respect. We were repeatedly promised permanent land grants & equitable trade agreements if we would just help some whitemen defeat their enemy-du-jour. It took us a long time for us to realize that, no matter how raucus the white on white fracas, the whiteman’s deepest allegiance would always be to other whitemen. And push come to shove, the only good Indian was a dead one. What I’m saying is: be very careful. To paraphrase the authors of “Black Rage”, any Jew who is not paranoid is mentally ill. I read about Arabs who are politically moderate & just want to live in peace. I believe that. I also believe that should push once again come to shove, & it will, the majority of bickering Arab nations & factions will unite against Israel. Some of them have pledged– PLEDGED to destroy Israel. Do you think they’re just playing around? Pray for the blossoming of peace in the hearts of all.

George One says:

Not sure that the Obama administration would cut back on aid to the Palestinians – even if the “unity” government includes terrrorist organisation Hamas.

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Fatah Chooses Hamas

Will reconciliation doom or help the statehood cause?

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