In Shadow of Stalled Peace Talks, Hamas and Fatah Nearing Reconciliation

Egyptian reports indicate that 'real progress' was made in meeting between the rival groups on Sunday.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Hamas No. 2 Moussa Abu Marzouk (R) hugs senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar in Gaza City, April 21, 2014.
Hamas No. 2 Moussa Abu Marzouk (R) hugs senior Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar in Gaza City, April 21, 2014.Credit: Reuters
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Headlines in Palestinian news outlets on Monday reflected incautious optimism regarding the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation:Breakthrough expected; Chances good for implementation of reconciliation agreements between Fatah and Hamas; "Hamas welcomes Fatah delegation.

The headlines were all referring to a meeting expected to take place Tuesday between the Fatah delegation to the reconciliation talks and the Hamas leadership, with the participation of Moussa Abu Marzouk, deputy to Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal. Will reconciliation come about this time between the factions, which have been at loggerheads since 2007? Will the reconciliation agreement they signed in 2011 be implemented?

Representatives of the movements met on Sunday in Cairo and according to reports from Egypt, they achieved real progress after Hamas agreed to give in on one of the fundamental conditions of the agreement, by which all clauses of the agreement are to be viewed as a single entity. This condition had determined that elections for the legislative authority and the Palestinian National Council take place on the same day, but after all other clauses in the agreement have been met, which include the distribution of ministerial portfolios and focuses of power. Instead, Hamas will make do with a clause by which a temporary new leadership will be established for the Palestine Liberation Organization in which all of the Palestinian organizations will be represented, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The parties also agreed to begin two weeks of talks on the establishment of a national unity government, and only thereafter to discuss a date for elections and the distribution of portfolios in the unified PLO leadership.

If the parties reach agreement, Israel might view this as intentional Palestinian abandonment of the negotiations with Israel, and use reconciliation as a pretext to halt the peace process. This, despite the fact that Hamas had agreed at the time to allow PA President Mahmoud Abbas to continue negotiations without Hamas committing to accept their outcome, and the fact that in 2010, Hamas made clear that it does not oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state within in the 1967 boundaries.

At the same time, Abbas can present himself as the legitimate representative of all parts of the Palestinian state and thus bolster his demand for international recognition for the state.

It is unclear from the agreements attained so far what the status will be of the accords signed between the PLO and Israel, whether the PA will be able to continue implementing them and what will happen to security cooperation with Hamas still supporting armed struggle. For Hamas, which is in deep economic trouble and in a hostile relationship with Egypt, reconciliation could be an indispensable way out. The funding sources that reach the PA could then be used to cover civil activities of government ministries that would be under Hamas control. Abbas could then ask Egypt to change its position toward Hamas and also open lines of communication for Hamas with other Arab countries.

However, in the Fatah leadership itself, opinions are divided over reconciliation, especially because of opposition to share power and funding with Hamas. Similar disputes divide Hamas leaders, who fear the sale of the principle of armed opposition and the possibility that Hamas will have to give up its complete control in Gaza.

Internal Palestinian rapprochement is supported by Egypt, which has agreed to allow Abu Marzouk to enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing, and by Saudi Arabia. The latter is encouraging Abbas to move ahead the agreement with Hamas in the belief that such an accord can rein in Hamas and even turn the organization into a political party that will abandon the armed struggle.

Hamas militants in Gaza, March 10, 2014.Credit: Reuters

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