Workers painting lines in Gaza
Workers painting lines in Gaza to celebrate May Day in 2011. Photo by AFP
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While preparations proceed in Cairo for the signing, probably on Wednesday, of a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, the readiness of Hamas to come to such an agreement apparently results from broader developments in the Arab world. Recent months have indicated to Hamas that its continued control of the Gaza Strip is not a foregone conclusion in the Strip.

Demonstrations in Gaza in support of Palestinian reconciliation and democracy were forcefully suppressed, but senior Hamas officials understood that among the public, their popularity was spiraling downward. When the organization began to be perceived in the same light at the dictatorial regimes falling one after another in the Arab world, its leadership grew concerned they would meet the same fate as the Mubarak regime in Egypt.

In the face of public pressure for a rapprochement with Fatah and a renewal of democratic process, Hamas was forced to act. As for the prospects of the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, it is actually Egyptian intelligence officials who are currently showing determination to close a deal, even if it means increased support among the Palestinian public for Hamas.

A reconciliation agreement with Fatah could provide Hamas a lifeline, particularly if the Egyptians proceed with their announced intention to open the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip.

Circumstances demanded reconciliation, but this doesn't necessarily mean that the deal will be followed by new elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as promised. However, from the standpoint of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a reconciliation agreement will provide the basis for him to claim in advance of the United Nations General Assembly in September - and recognition of Palestinian statehood - that the West Bank and Gaza are functioning under a unified leadership, even if that is not actually the reality.

Is implementation possible?

It's difficult to project whether the parties to reconciliation will manage to come to a full agreement, and even more so whether they will be able implement it down the line. The last attempt at Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, about four years ago, lasted a matter of months and collapsed.

It is not out of the question that a ceremony this week would simply involve another initialing of an agreement in principle - albeit at a higher level, this time between Abbas and the head of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Meshal. This would reflect the difficulty in coming quickly to a full agreement on the guidelines for coordinated operations by the two groups. It would be easiest to divide responsibility on a territorial basis, with Hamas remaining in control of Gaza and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority in the West Bank in charge of that territory, but both sides have declared opposition to such an approach.