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  Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation: where does it lead to?

Aivaras Bagdonas, VU TSPMI doktorantas
2011 06 13

While international community has been watching the events in Libya, Syria and other Arab countries, Palestine released a worrying message: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah party and the radical Islamist Hamas movement declared reconciliation. On 3 May 13 Palestinian fractions, including Fatah and Hamas representatives, signed the Palestinian unity agreement in Cairo. Both powers decided to form an interim government which is supposed to function until the presidential and legislative elections in Palestine to be held within a year.

This decision may pave the way for a constructive dialogue between the Palestinian political forces. This is primarily determined by a favorable international political context. According to The Los Angeles Times, the Middle East Quartet or the Big Four (Russia, United States, the UN and EU) would support recognition of the Palestinian state in case of unsuccessful negotiations between Palestine and Israel. Palestinians will go to the United Nations General Assembly in September to seek recognition. Pursuant to different sources, the Assembly might recognize an independent state if Palestinian self-government authority fulfills certain requirements.

The recent political unrest and change are sweeping North Africa and the Middle East. Egypt seeking to increase the role of Cairo in the region plays an important role. Whereas the issue of a Palestinian state is a good tool in pursuing this goal. Recently the Middle East (including Syria) support for Hamas declined, thus the grouping has to look for new allies and make concessions to the opponent Fatah. Consequently, Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal and his supporters decided to leave Damask and move to Qatar (Egypt and Jordan refusedto host Hamas leaders on their soil).

Thus, the convergence of Fatah, Hamas and other political forces could be considered as logical continuation of the ongoing political process. It is likely that the support for the development of a dialogue between Fatah and Hamas would remain - ceteris paribus - in the near future.

The idea of a political unity today is favorable to both, Fatah and Hamas. For Fatah leader Mahmoud Abass this unity is a perfect opportunity to become the leader of a transitional government. At the same time he would become a formal leader of both Palestinian residential areas and acquire the basis for increasing the Fatah influence throughout Palestine. This scenario is particularly likely in case of enhancement of a Palestinian unity agreement.

Certainly, Hamas refuses to obey the Middle East Quartet calls to stop terror, recognize the state of Israel and respect previous Palestinian autonomy and Israeli agreements. Whereas the unity with Fatah gives an opportunity for the extremist grouping to pursue the goals without overstepping own principles. According to The Time Magazine, by entering into political dialogue with Fatah, Hamas could increase its influence in the West Bank which is controlled by the supporters of Mahmoud Abass, and weaken the positions of this political opponent in Palestine.

It is likely that eventually political ambitions of Fatah and Hamas will again separate these political forces. Anyway, it seems that so far they are ready to pursue a common goal, i.e. the establishment of a Palestinian state, and their relations should not worsen in the near future.

Israel moves against a new Palestinian unity. While commenting the Palestinian unity deal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested Fatah to choose between the “peace with Israel or Hamas”, and added that “peace with both states was impossible”. Germany also disapproves the Palestinian initiative. Steffen Seibert, a representative of the German Government, said that Germany would not recognize a Palestinian state without an agreement with Israel.

However, these and other actors of the political system might not be able to restrict the dialogue between Fatah and Hamas. The international community declares its will to accelerate regulation of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, thus support of the United States, Russia and other countries in establishing a Palestinian state is instrumental. Since Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations remain static, the future might be decided without taking into account the opinion of political opponents (first of all Israel).

Thus, Palestinian political groups must reach a political consensus to meet at least minimum requirements of the West (unify Palestinian territories, stop terrorism and at least formally seek peace in the Middle East etc.) They also have to manage the tension in the dialogue with Israel in order to establish a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and with East Jerusalem as its capital.

The first steps have already been made after signing a Palestinian unity agreement. According to the weekly L'Express magazine, various temporary solutions could be expected, e.g. the suspension of Hamas attacks against Israel, more intensive political dialogue between Hamas and Fatah, the appointment of Mahmoud Abass as the leader or even president of an interim government of the Palestinian autonomy etc. All the above could be expected until the Palestinians establish own state. What happens then? It is difficult to say. Fatah and Hamas have absolutely different positions concerning long-term aims and the tools for their achievement. It is therefore likely that as soon as a Palestinian state is established, these groups will again start fighting and will bring political disunity and downturn back to Palestine.

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