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Hamas Fatah Reconciliation - what does it mean?

The Israeli media is correctly calling the deal between Hamas and Fatah “historic.” We don’t yet know which direction history will take the Palestinians or whether the deal has any hope of reaching the basic goals the Palestinian leaders seem to have set: the establishment of a legitimate transitional government, elections within a year, and probably ultimately, the advancement of a viable Palestinian state. But here are a few points about what the apparent reconciliation could mean for Palestine and for Israel.

1.  Some believe that the Palestinian state the PA seems likely to declare in September will be a non-viable entity, torn into two, with no monopoly on the use of force and little legitimacy. With the September deadline for unilaterally declared statehood, there have been questions about whether such a declaration will have any meaning at all. A united government will certainly be better poised to earn statehood following declaration (on the condition, of course, that Hamas refrains from violence). That state, with a united government, in turn stands to become the object of both domestic and international legitimacy. In that situation, Israel  will be increasingly left out in the cold.

2.  I sense that the breakthrough sprung partially from the very deep fears about what’s happening in the Middle East. It was not an accident that the Palestinian Authority called elections soon after the revolutions broke out – like other Arab leaders, the Palestinian are scurrying to show the people that they are being responsive to local discontent. Palestinian surveys repeatedly show that the split in Palestinian society is among the top two concerns of the Palestinian public. It seems that no serious political contender wants to be blamed for the split anymore, and the regional crisis may have spurred the Palestinian factions to display domestic responsiveness.

3.  The reconciliation seems clearly orchestrated with September in mind. That makes it look like Hamas too is throwing its weight behind the Palestinian state project. Pessimists (like Netanyahu and Lieberman) will say this is a first step toward Hamas taking over the West Bank, as part of its master plan of taking over Israel. Optimists (like me) will say this is a Hamas-style admission that there will be a Palestinian state that is distinct from the Israeli state – in effect giving up on the notion of a total Palestinian takeover.

4. Israel has been cozily entrenched in a very solid narrative for four years now (since the 2007 Hamas takeover of Gaza): Even if Israel wanted to make peace, “who is there to make peace with on the Palestinian side? Who?” One hears this refrain  constantly in Israeli life. In fairness, it was a real problem, one I feel the left never truly managed to answer except to lament that Israel largely contributed to the situation. The Fatah-Hamas agreement tears down this towering argument and Israel loses one of its strongest foundations for justifying the status quo. That’s why the deal already has the Israeli leadership worried.  Netanyahu thinks he’s being real clever by setting up a false dilemma for the Palestinians:

“Palestinian Authority needs to choose between peace with the people of Israel and peace with Hamas. You cannot have peace with both, because Hamas aspires to destroy the State of Israel, and it says so openly… I hope the PA makes the right choice – to choose peace with Israel. The choice is hers.”

But Netanyahu’s attempt to create the wrong question is clumsy and transparent. The real question is whether Netanyahu will work toward peace with the United State of Palestine, or not. Bibi’s approach will get him left behind; Israel, yet again, is reacting and not initiating, racing to catch up with creative Palestinian policymaking.

5.  The next dilemma Israel will face is whether to negotiate with this creation that it did not want. Of course, if Israel had been more effective at reaching peace through negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, we might not be in this situation. But if the agreement lasts and at some point negotiations are an option again, here’s my prediction: The Israeli leadership will try to use Hamas as an excuse to avoid negotiations with the Palestinians in perpetuity.

That’s a shame, because the Israeli public has long demonstrated its grudging willingness to negotiate with a government that includes Hamas, for the sake of advancing peace. A Truman Center survey from March 2007, for example, showed an absolute 55% majority of Jews who said Israel should negotiate with a coalition that includes Hamas, in order to reach a compromise on the conflict – and 59% of all Israelis (poll #19). In June 2010, just after the traumatic flotilla events, 49% of all Israelis still supported negotiating with Hamas (42% of Jews – still high, considering that tensions were perhaps at their highest level – poll #32).  In the most recent Truman Institute survey from March 2011, 47% of Jews support negotiating with a Hamas government, and 53% of all Israelis.

Those questions tested the notion of negotiations with a Hamas led government; it’s likely that there is even higher support for negotiating with a Hamas-Fatah coalition for the sake of peace.

One final qualification: Hamas is nobody’s ideal partner for peace. Nobody knows if this can really work. But a unified Palestinian leadership is probably the best hope for moderating extremists. And the more viable a Palestinian state becomes, the higher the chances of progress in the future.

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    1. Theophilus

      I hope that your optimism is well-founded. As long as there is no reinvigoration of Hamas’ 1988 charter, then this may give us reason for such hope.

      I am afraid that this may, in fact, give extremists the ability to gain more power if they are able to gain any level of authority within the new governing structure.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Rabbi Tony Jutner

      The Palestinians should not have to negotiate to reclaim their homes. They should be able to return, either Hamas or Fatah to their homes and either fight it out or live in peace as they choose. Jews from israel should leave and establish their own personal Jerusalems whereever they live. San Francisco is my Jerusalem

      Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      The people of Palestine spoke 4 years ago and elected Hamas to form their government. It’s high time the world recognized this fact, even if the terms have by now expired.

      4 years wasted, and how many lives lost trying to turn back democracy?

      Reply to Comment
    4. RICK

      @Rabbi Tony Jutner: I find it quite disturbing to see that, while you fully support the Palestinian right of return, you want to deny the same connection many if not most Jewish Israelis also feel to the land. Who are you to decide that Jewish Israelis should leave to – well, to where? If you are truly in favor of equality, you would have to acknowledge that there is a place for both Jews and Palestinians in the region.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Moshe

      Rabbi as a ham sandwich is kosher!

      Reply to Comment
    6. Carl

      If it actually does go ahead this reconciliation, I’d say it’s got to be step in the right direction. Hopefully Dahlia you’re right, and this represents a resurgence of the pragmatic side of Hamas, something which has been in decline since the middle of last decade. Theophilus, I wouldn’t worry too much on their charter, mental though much of it is; unless all of Israel’s armed forces accidentally book their holidays on the same day, they’re not going to get to carry it out.

      All told, I’d agree this reconciliation is a necessary first step for any future agreement, but if the Palestinians get it together in the long run is indeed a big if. The Israeli & US right response is too predictable to even mention, but given the regional climate, they might be forced to reassess their worldview. Actually, scratch that last bit: admission of reality has never been their strong point.

      Tony et al, if we’re going to veer off the subject, can we discuss the issue of Hamas V Fatah baseball caps? Hamas: strong colours but predictable. Fatah: classic design, but in dire need of an update. I’m on the fence with this one.

      Reply to Comment
    7. max

      Dahlia, as you correctly observe, the basic difference between the Zionist right & left in Israel is related to their degree of optimism / pessimism.
      That’s also why the difference is much less observable in the governments: they have to deal with risk management, an inherently pessimistic (and defensive) perspective.
      That said, governments have also a task of defining plausible futures and pursuing steps to help them shape those futures. Israeli governments, Netanyahu’s included (but not more than others), have failed miserably in this task.
      In this respect, the Palestinians seem to be better “go” players.
      2. “… this is a Hamas-style admission that there will be a Palestinian state that is distinct from the Israeli state –in effect giving up on the notion of a total Palestinian takeover.”
      Must it be? What about the speculation (based on many internal memos) that we’re facing here a salami tactic? Wouldn’t you at least wait for a formal declaration before putting in their mouth such benevolent ideas, acting upon only to later be surprised when/if they correctly claim they never said it?

      Reply to Comment
    8. Kim Nguyen

      “The Israeli leadership will try to use Hamas as an excuse to avoid negotiations…” I see they are already floating that one and will probably get some milage out of it from their US enablers. I doubt that those games are going to work any longer. The Palestinian people have powerful levers now: a unified leadership and the non-violent popular resistance to occupation. World opinion is shifting in favor of freedom thanks to the courage of the young Arabs! Peace now, or be left behind.

      Reply to Comment
    9. Evan


      Very much enjoyed your post. One point which you didn’t address, though, which I’ve seen other sites address (and which seems to be quite relevant) is Hamas relationship with the Assad regime in Syria. The thinking is that Hamas’ leadership is becoming increasingly worried that their patron may not be around much longer and that this, in turn, puts them in a more vulnerable position. Perhaps this, combined with Hamas leadership’s awareness of the increasing desire of the Palestinian Gazans for peace, has shown them the need to resolve their disputes with Fatah.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Larry Derfner

      If the Palestinians’ whole strategy is to bring intl pressure on Israel to end the occupation, how does Hamas’ new improved status do anything but harm that goal? Which intl player that has influence on Israel – i.e. which Western or Western-allied country – ISN’T unhappy w/this development? I think the Palestinians made a huge blunder.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Rabbi Tony Jutner

      Lary, I beg to differ. First, by haiving Hamas join Fatah in a unity government, they can play the good cop, bad cop that Jimmy Carter taught Arafat. You can negotiate with the good cop (Fatah) or the bad cop (Hamas). IN addition, the whole world recognizes Hamas right to govern, and one could say that Hamas is more democratic than ziostan. Finally, once Obama is re-elected, he will recognize Hamas and force israel to negotiate with Hamas without Obama ever having to set foot in ziostan. Thus this rapprochement is of historic significance. I love your articles at JPOst. Keep rubbing the zionist snout in the dust

      Reply to Comment
    12. Yo…I always thought that PM Natanyahu was very bright and would rise above the morass and become a great statesman of the modern generation. It has NOT happened. I am losing my sincere faith and feeling for him as I am losing it for Pres Obama and other so called world leaders. This was a time when Natanyahu could have made history for Israel and for us in the Diaspora. There is no one who can or will do it.
      So the Fatah and Hamas have united…which represents an interesting and not negative move. Once again, great statesmanship could and should finesse the move and also the UN vote ( which might just be passed !) and put the Israelis back incharge of of this interminable chess game !

      Reply to Comment
    13. ARI

      Yes Israel has missed too many opportunities to make peace.
      Was Hamas not founded to establish an Islamic Palestinian state that will replace Israel?
      Does the charter not quote Islamic religious texts to provide justification for fighting against and killing the Jews of Israel?
      Does it not present the Arab-Israeli conflict as an inherently irreconcilable struggle between Jews and Muslims, and Judaism and Islam,adding that the only way to engage in this struggle is through Islam and by means of jihad, until victory or martyrdom?

      Daliah, though I wish to be optimistic, where/how do you see a partner for peace in Hamas????????

      Reply to Comment
    14. Mitchell Cohen

      “Rabbi” Jutner claims Israeli Jews should leave Israel and establish their own “personal Jerusalems” wherever they live. In case the esteemed “Rabbi” has been living in a cave, there are millions of Jews who were born in Israel and know no other home. And, no small percentage of them, have been in this land for multiple generations. Your advice sounds similar to what the Nazis had in mind for the Jews who lived in Europe about 70 years ago and just before Yom Hoshoah.

      “Rabbi” if you are happy in San Franciso, then more power to you, but those of us Jews in Eretz Yisrael will stay put here, than you very much, and we will prevail!!!!

      Reply to Comment