Palestinians are still a long way from real reconciliation
Abbas has not yet 'chosen Hamas over peace’ and can press the ejector seat button at any time.
Despite the cries of emanating from Jerusalem, the reconciliation agreement that Fatah and Hamas signed on Wednesday at the Shati refugee camp in the Gaza Strip does not necessarily signify a disaster on the scale of the destruction of the Temple. Nothing is final yet, and both of the rival Palestinian factions have proven in recent years that they have a knack for reneging on signed agreements with one another. This time though, both sides seem to be taking the agreement much more seriously than they did the two previous accords in 2011. But even now, there is still a long way to go toward true reconciliation among the Palestinians, including new elections, the formation of a new government and the names of candidates for ministers due to be published within five weeks.
Shalom Harari, one of the leading Israeli experts on the West Bank, described the situation accurately on Wednesday. Those who formulated the agreement between Fatah and Hamas – one page, signed, but yet to be seen by anyone – approached the problem in a manner similar to the way in which Shimon Peres described the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993: a long story that starts with a happy end. They agreed only on what they could agree upon, for the time being.
Fatah and Hamas reached understandings only on the relatively easy items: a formal declaration of reconciliation and an outline for the general framework of elections. They have yet to begin touching the more controversial issues that divide them, from how to unify their security forces in the West Bank and Gaza, what form the structure of the new national institutions will take and what joint course of action - armed struggle, popular struggle or peace talks - should be adopted vis a vis Israel?
This peace agreement reflects a joint Fatah-Hamas response to the public’s expectations in the West Bank and Gaza, that in the absence of progress with Israel, there should be at least some form of unity on the Palestinian side. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has not faced elections since 2006, needs the reconciliation in order to boost his legitimacy. Hamas’ Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh needs money. Economic aid from Qatar has dwindled and Hamas’ freedom of movement within Gaza has become limited, due to pressure from the hostile generals that rule in Cairo.
From the Israeli point of view, the most urgent question is the relations between the PA and Hamas in the West Bank. Will the PA continue to arrest Hamas activists that pose a security threat?
Reconciliation at this stage does not truly reflect that Abbas has chosen “Hamas instead of peace,” as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged. It does supply Netanyahu with ammunition in his effort to convince the international community that the Palestinians are responsible for the failure of John Kerry’s initiatives. But essentially, nothing has actually changed: There’s still no unity government and no elections. Abbas can still push the ejector seat button at any moment.
While the document was being signed, Israel failed in an attempt to kill a member of one of the upstart terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip. The target, apparently responsible for shooting rockets at southern Israel earlier this week, was according to the Shin Bet security service on his way to launch more rockets when Israel Air Force craft fired on his motorcycle, but missed. At least seven Palestinian civilians on the scene were injured. In response, the Palestinians fired several rockets toward Israel, which landed within the Gaza Strip. Hamas is opposed to firing rockets at this time, and has acted to restrict such attacks.
The considerations in this failed attempt were operational – not diplomatic. The Israel Air Force attempted to prevent rockets from being fired at Israeli civilians. The timing was random. On Wednesday, the IDF published details about a surprise drill that Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz held for the Central Command, to test its readiness in case of a dramatic escalation in tensions with the Palestinians in the West Bank. The decision to announce the details of that drill is less clear. The drill, of course, had been planned for some time. But the numerous and detailed reports to the media have been read as yet another veiled threat at PA leadership, of course. Noting how the IDF Spokesperson’s unit also found the time on Wednesday to launch an Internet campaign for its followers to post “selfies” with Holocaust survivors, it seems like now is the right time to suggest: Guys, why not chill out for a bit?
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