The enthusiastic dancing, hugging and kissing on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank celebrating reconciliation between Hamas and is not shared by leaders of the rival Palestinian factions. Years of animosity, conflict and an enduring reluctance to surrender or even share power is likely to prevent the eventual consummation of this marriage of inconvenience
The announcement of their reconciliation in Cairo earlier this month was premature; there are too many unresolved issues, most notably what to do with their rival armies and arsenals. Then there’s the fact that Fatah is a secular nationalist party while Hamas is Islamist.
It’s not the first time at the altar for this odd couple and it probably won’t be the last.
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi’s intelligence ministry brokered the latest attempt as part of his country’s effort to reestablish its leadership in the Arab world.
Israel wasn’t consulted on the match but will have a lot to say about its future. It’ right wing government isn’t anxious to see the West Bank and Gaza draw closer together.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is demanding as price for unity that Hamas must disarm and accept the principle of “one authority, one law, one weapon” – his. Hamas, he said, wouldn’t be allowed to keep its army or weapons and must submit to the rule of a single government.
Any discussion of security forces was put off for an unspecified later date. Published reports say Hamas rejected Abbas demands that its 25,000-man Izzadin Qassam Brigades give up its weapons and rockets, at least until the occupation ends. Any PA attempt to disarm Hamas’ army is likely to spark another civil war.
There’s no way Israel would accept a Palestinian unity government unless Hamas were totally disarmed, its network of tunnels closed and its arsenal of rockets scrapped. The last thing it wants to see is the two military forces merged and freer passage of goods and people between Gaza and the West Bank.
The Trump administration welcomed the agreement but said Hamas must abandon armed struggle, recognize Israel, renounce terror and embrace all prior international agreements affecting Israeli-Palestinian relations. That may not be enough for the Netanyahu government.
Hamas is still a terror organization with close ties to Iran. The chief negotiator in the reconciliation talks was Saleh al-Arouri, who has spent years in Israeli prisons for terrorism. He said the deal means all Palestinians forces can “work together against the Zionist enterprise,” the Times of Israel reported.
Some of Israel’s friends in the Congress may demand putting the PA on the State Department terrorist list if it absorbs Hamas. Such a move will have great support from pro-Israel lobbyists, evangelicals, conservative Jewish donors, hardline supporters of Israel and opponents of the two-state approach.
Opinions are divided on how the agreement would affect peacemaking.
It has handed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu another excuse – as if he needed one – to step away. Hamas remains a terror organization in the eyes of Israel, the United States and many others. “Reconciling with mass-murderers is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” his spokesman said.
There’s a Catch 22 quality to the whole question. Netanyahu and others have long argued that there is no partner for peace because the Palestinians are divided between the secularists and the Islamists. If they can’t make peace with each other, the argument goes, how can they make peace with Israel?
But if they make peace with each other, how can Israel make peace with a PA whose major partner sworn to its destruction?