Hamas-Fatah Reconciliatory Efforts: The Impact on Israel-Palestine Relations
Representatives from Hamas and Fatah, the governing bodies of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, respectively, reached a reconciliation accord on Thursday. Signed in Cairo, the agreement aims to unite the feuding administrations for the first time since Hamas took de facto control of Gaza in 2007.
Both parties announced a tentative plan to amalgamate their administrative apparatuses (including their parliaments, police forces, and civil servants), as they work to install a unitary, undisputed authority that will govern all Palestinian territories. Egyptian mediators said that by November, Fatah’s presidential guards will preside over the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and the Egyptian Sinai, and, by December, Fatah will assume Hamas’s day-to-day administrative duties in Gaza.
Fatah president Mahmoud Abbas’s crippling sanctions on Hamas, coupled with wavering Qatari funding (in light of its diplomatic crisis with Saudi Arabia), have taken a toll on Gaza, an already isolated and impoverished territory, and have forced its leaders to negotiate with their West Bank counterpart.
Given Gaza’s dire circumstances, Abbas expressed confidence that Thursday’s accord would eventually produce “the final agreement to end the division” between Hamas and Fatah.
However, Hamas and Fatah declined to disclose the reconciliation accord’s specific language, and they have yet to settle key issues that preclude long-term cooperation. Specifically, their antithetical means of resisting the Israeli occupation constitute innate ideological differences that may prove difficult to overcome.
Hamas has gone to war with Israel in 2008, 2012, and 2014, and maintains a complex system of tunnels that protrude into pre-1967 Israeli territory. Conversely, when Yasser Arafat, Fatah’s founder, agreed to the Oslo Accords in the ‘90s, his organization thereby recognized Israel’s existence and committed to bilateral peace negotiations as the Palestinian Authority (PA).
In the event of a successful merger, if Abbas wishes to continue his cooperation with Israel and with large, multilateral international organizations, then he must pacify the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military arm, and convince its leaders to unconditionally recognize the Israeli state. These sticking points have hampered previous reconciliatory efforts between the Palestinian entities, and until Hamas agrees to the aforementioned prerequisites, the Quartet on the Middle East (the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, and Russia) will continue to classify members of the organization, including its affiliate actors, as terrorists.
On Thursday afternoon, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his disdain for the deal in blunt terms.
“Reconciling with mass-murderers is part of the problem, not part of the solution. Say yes to peace and no to joining hands with Hamas,” Netanyahu said on Twitter.
Resolving the Hamas-Fatah divide would certainly reduce violence along the Gaza border, but Israel’s primary objective in the broader scheme of Palestinian-Israeli affairs is maintaining the status quo—ignoring UN resolutions and expanding settlements—and a fragmented Palestinian state is an asset that outweighs the positives of peace.
Until Thursday’s developments, Netanyahu frequently characterized Abbas as an invalid negotiating partner, citing his inability to make guarantees over Gaza whenever international bodies pressured Israel to converse with Palestine. If Hamas-Fatah reconciliatory efforts solidify, then, reminiscent of the 2011 Cairo Agreement, Netanyahu may present Fatah with an ultimatum: “Choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. There is no possibility for peace with both.”