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Why Fatah-Hamas reconciliation might just work this time

Unlike previous efforts, the current Palestinian reconciliation agreement appears to have been cemented from within; and it might just offer a lifeline to Gaza.

By Samer Badawi

Just as word emerged early Wednesday of an imminent unity accord between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seized upon the news to issue his Palestinian counterpart an ultimatum: Make peace with Hamas, and you can forget about peace with Israel. In lockstep, Netanyahu’s Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman immediately dubbed any intra-Palestinian reconciliation a veritable “termination of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.”

If that was a bluff, the Palestinians did not flinch. By the end of the day, the rival factions had announced a way forward on deals they had previously inked in Doha and Cairo. There would be elections within six months, and in the interim, a unity government—with Mahmoud Abbas the “prime minister” at its helm.

Welcome to the post-Oslo world.

It’s not as if Netanyahu and Co. didn’t see it coming. After all, it was the Israeli government, which controls Palestinians’ access to Gaza from the West Bank, that had waved Fatah delegates through the Erez crossing a day earlier. The rationale must have been simple. One week ahead of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s deadline for a so-called “framework agreement,” the Israeli premier is hell-bent to pin Kerry’s failure on Abbas — even if that means pushing the latter closer to Israel’s sworn enemy, Hamas.

President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas at a joint press conference in Whitehall. (flickr / Cabinet Office CC)

File photo of President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas. (flickr/Cabinet Office CC)

Abbas, for his part, seems oblivious to the charge. As if anticipating Liberman’s bluff, he again threatened on Tuesday to disband the Palestinian Authority should a framework agreement with the Israelis remain elusive. At issue this time, Abbas maintains, is Israel’s refusal to follow through on a planned Palestinian prisoner release. That missed milestone, of course, coincided with Israel’s announcement of 700 new settlement units — a move that Kerry has named “the moment” the on-again, off-again talks finally stalled.

We’ve been here before, no doubt. But this time, there are at least two reasons why the unity agreement seems more likely to stick.

For one thing, it appears to have been cemented from within. Although Egypt did play a part by allowing Hamas’s Moussa Abu Marzouk to cross into Gaza through Rafah, the regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has long since declared war on Hamas and its Muslim Brotherhood forebears. Of late, it has also been openly hostile to Abbas, giving air time to the Fatah leader’s chief internal rival, Mohammed Dahlan, who has levied corruption charges against the 79 year old in no less a venue than the International Criminal Court.

With seemingly no support from Egypt, which had brokered prior Fatah-Hamas talks, the Palestinians have had to generate their own incentives for reconciliation. In the Fatah camp, Abbas can now claim Wednesday’s deal as further proof of his nationalist bona fides, thus rebutting Dahlan’s indictments in the court of Palestinian public opinion. But what does Hamas stand to gain from a deal that will leave it geographically and economically sequestered from the West Bank by an ongoing Israeli siege?

More to the point, that question matters most to the people of Gaza. Effectively written out of U.S.-sponsored negotiations since 2007, they could be forgiven for yawning through this week’s brinksmanship. Consider, for example, that upon arrival of the Fatah delegation — which included mansion-dwelling billionaire Munib al-Masri — Gaza’s main crossing point for commercial goods, Kerem Shalom, was once again closed “indefinitely”; or that both the Erez and Rafah crossings, controlled by Israel and Egypt, respectively, remain sealed unless the luckiest of Gaza’s 1.7 million Palestinians are told otherwise.

Therein lies the second reason Wednesday’s unity agreement might actually gain traction. A Fatah-Hamas deal paves the way for reactivating the European Union Border Assistance Mission, which was formed, with Israel’s consent, to monitor the Rafah crossing. EUBAM, as it’s known, derives its mandate from the so-called Agreement on Movement and Access, which was signed on November 15, 2005 with the Palestinian Authority. Since that Authority was cleft by infighting in 2007, leaving Gaza outside the 2005 Agreement’s fold, EUBAM has, in its own words, “remained on standby, awaiting a political solution and ready to re-engage at very short notice.”

With eight staff in the region and funding only through June, it seems unlikely that EUBAM can ramp up its operations quickly enough to offset Israel’s ongoing — and tightening — collective punishment of Gaza. But with a once-daily average of 1,500 people crossing through Rafah under its supervision, the long dormant mission may well offer hope where more than two decades of the Oslo process has decidedly not.

Samer Badawi is a freelance writer based in Washington, DC. He is the former DC correspondent for Middle East International and last visited Gaza in December 2012.

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    1. Rehmat

      Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is bad for Israel, therefore, the US, EU and Saudi Arabia which support the corrupt Fatah leadership, will never let it cooperate with Hamas/Islamic Jihad which is financed and trained by Hizbullah and Iran. Hamas, after the removal of Dr. Morsi from power, has been in contact with Hizbullah in its efforts to be re-accepted in the “Axis of Resistance” (Iran-Syria-Hizbullah).

      “There is no mandate for any Palestinian leadership to infringe on Palestinian national rights, nor is there a mandate for any Palestinian actor to make historic concessions on Palestinian land or the right of the Palestinians, foremost among them the right of return,” said Ismail Haniya, the elected PA prime minister.

      Fatah, in reality is fighting a proxy war for Israel to counter Islamist groups.


      Reply to Comment
    2. Tony Riley

      The term “collective punishment” is inaccurate and emotive. Israel is at war with Hamas, so it’s quite reasonable that it should keep its borders closed until there is peace.

      Reply to Comment
      • Rehmat

        So why we in the West hear Israelis and Jewish lobby whining every time an Israeli Jew is killed by Hamas? Since Israel is at war with Hamas – isn’t it has the right to kill even the Israeli “combatants”, which every Israeli Jewish boys and girls are after receiving compulsary two-year military traing.

        Reply to Comment
        • Tzutzik

          “So why we in the West hear Israelis and Jewish lobby whining every time an Israeli Jew is killed by Hamas?”

          I suppose you expect them to cheer instead?

          Reply to Comment
        • Haifawi

          I mean it’s ‘reasonable’ for Israel to shut the borders, it’s ‘reasonable’ for Hamas to launch rockets, and it’s ‘reasonable’ for Israel to shoot missiles from F-15s.
          Whether any of this is actually productive is the question. But I agree that if you are going to whine, you should whine about everything.

          Reply to Comment
    3. Tzutzik

      I just love Rehmat’s circular arguments.

      Arabs like Hamas have declared and pursued a policy of war against Israel.

      Israel has always said, let’s resolve our differences through negotiations and compromise. Arabs like Hamas always said and still say “NO, give us everything or we will fight you to the bitter end!”

      Israel then acts accordingly. It fights it’s war against Hamas.

      The Rehmat’s of this world then whine about “collective punishment”.

      When he gets told that his claim is an emotive term because there is a war on, at the insistence of Hamas, he retorts about the Jews and the Jewish lobby “whining” for the murder of Israeli civilians. As if the random deliberate murder of civilians is equivalent to a blockade of the party that started the war and which insists that the war will not end till every Israeli is dead or exiled …

      Rehmat illustrates why the Middle East conflict is so intractable and difficult to resolve. Israel is up against people like Rehmat. Reason is not their strong point.

      Reply to Comment
      • Felix Reichert

        Israel is waging war against Hamas. Sure.

        Israel is also waging economical and psychological war on almost 2 million peaceful civilians in Gaza.

        But sure, I guess Hamas could get their hands on dangerous imports like Cumin and potato chips, and might build rockets out of those products…

        Reply to Comment
      • Rehmat

        Tzutzik – I love your Zionist self-denial.

        It’s Jews like you who are occupying Palestinian land – and Arabs occupying your parents homelands Poland, Russia or Austria.

        Rabbi Wolf Gunther Plaut says it were Frankist Jews who committed Holocaust.

        Hitler did not hate Jews. According to a latest DNA report, Hitler’s “honeypot” for decade was a Jewish woman by the name Eva Braun.


        Reply to Comment
        • Tzutzik

          When in doubt, change the topic. We were talking about Hamas waging war against Israel then people like you whining about collective punishment.

          Wanna answer that one first? Then we can move on to discuss your other lies, Rehmat.

          Felix, you are too boring. I will argue with one polemicist at a time. Someone else might care to take YOU on … ?

          Reply to Comment
        • IlonJ

          “It’s Jews like you who are occupying Palestinian land – and Arabs occupying your parents homelands Poland, Russia or Austria.”

          Let’s connect the dots. Like Hamas, Rehmat is trying to say that Israel has no right to exist.

          Israel begs to disagree with Rehmat and Hamas. So Hamas fights a terrorist war against Israel. Israel consequently fights back.

          Rehmat objects to Israel fighting back. That sums it up.

          Anyone wants to add anything else?

          Reply to Comment
          • Rehmat

            Your “dots” had been connected by Israeli Jew Gilad Atzmon and American Jew Roger Tucker in 2010 – and the result was “Helen was right”: “Israel has no right to exist as a Jewish state”.


            Reply to Comment
          • IlonJ

            “Your “dots” had been connected by Israeli Jew Gilad Atzmon …”

            Wow, Gilad Atzmon. I stand in awe. He is the oracle of all wisdom. In a parallel universe maybe …

            The other dude, I never heard about.

            But in any case. What do you expect Israelis to do? They should stop responding to the war that Hamas wages on Israel? Why? Because Gilad Atzmon and that other moron says so?

            Reply to Comment
    4. shachalnur

      Israel created Hamas.

      And now the monster turns on it’s creator ,you can’t complain.

      Reply to Comment
      • Vadim

        Wow, a first comment without the Ringworm affair… Never thought I’d get to see one.

        “Israel created Hamas.”

        This is silly. Israel may have wished for Hamas to fight Fatah, Israel may have not fought Hamas the way we should have or Israel didn’t realize the danger posed by Hamas. But to claim that Israel created Hamas is absurd.

        Reply to Comment
        • shachalnur

          Professor Zeev Sternhell,Hebrew University Jerusalem,says Israel created Hamas,as do many others.

          What the Ringworm Affair has to do with this ,eludes me….

          Reply to Comment
          • Tzutzik

            “Professor Zeev Sternhell,Hebrew University Jerusalem,says Israel created Hamas,as do many others.”

            Did he really say that? I searched it but I can’t find when and where did he say it, out of his own mouth. Plenty of people like you quoting him but nowhere did I see him say so himself. Perhaps you have a link where he says it? That also shows him justifying why he says it?

            Reply to Comment
          • shachalnur

            “Israeli roots of Hamas are being exposed” -Executive Intelligence Review- by Dean Andromidas 18 Jan 2002.

            “Israel thought that it was a smart ploy to push the islamists against the PLO”.

            sept. 2008 Sternhall was a victim of a pipe bomb attack allegedly by right wing extremists ,so said the police.

            Since then he is more quiet,and refuses to repeat his quote on Hamas ,but doesn’t deny it either.

            So people like you can claim he never said it,and if he does repeat it,your ilk will take care of people like him.

            eppur si muove.

            Reply to Comment
          • Tzutzik

            Here we go …

            I asked you for a link which details what Professor Zeev Sternhell himself said out of his own mouth. But you give no such a link.

            Instead you go off on a tangent and sling more mud. I looked up some of the items on your new list and their claims are uttered on anti Israeli propaganda sites. They have no credence whatsoever.

            Yes, Shakhalnur you are up to your old tricks. You are your slippery old self, a snake oil merchant and you don’t want to let yourself be pinned down. Your philosophy is that if you sling enough mud, some of it will stick.

            Reply to Comment
          • Tzutzik

            “sept. 2008 Sternhall was a victim of a pipe bomb attack allegedly by right wing extremists ,so said the police.”

            But he says plenty of other things that people like me don’t like. How come? If he is afraid of us, how come?

            Reply to Comment
    5. Tzutzik

      “Israel created Hamas.”

      Yea, and Hitler and Tsunamis and earthquakes according to the likes of you …

      Reality check: Yes, at one time in the early days, Israel tried it’s luck by fostering Hamas because it was getting nowhere with Arafat. In hindsight that WAS a mistaken experiment. But it’s a long way from that to saying that Israel CREATED Hamas.

      By the way, I want to hear a response from Rehmat about his circular argument. Instead, I hear from you Shakhalnur. Are you his spokesman? Or maybe you are just Rehmat under a different alias?

      Reply to Comment
    6. Rehmat, I am not sure who you are, but your stupid. Palestinians don’t need a fool like yourself to defend their rights. you are doing more damage than you think! Our cause is already just and it does not need your anti-semitic crap. Go away!

      Reply to Comment
      • Tzutzik

        Rehmat might or might not go away. That is not so important.

        The more important question is: will Hamas go away? If not, will it change it’s intransigent approach?

        Reply to Comment
      • shachalnur


        I clicked your moniker ,and it showed “Rehmat” and than no connection.

        So what kind of “our cause” are you talking about,who do you claim to represent,the Palestinians?

        Reply to Comment
        • Tzutzik

          That’s probably because you are the poster of all three posts and you want to muddy the waters about the fact that:

          Rehmat = Shakhalnur.

          Shakhalnur = Rehmat.

          You throw in a red herring like NIZ and you think it will throw us off your trail? LOL, it won’t.

          Reply to Comment
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