Fatah-Hamas reconciliation is good news for Palestinians, but it could jeopardise peace talk.
The announcement of the reconciliation deal between rival Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, may have come as a surprise. But it would surprise no one if this deal too, like the ones reached in Cairo in 2011 and Doha in 2012, falls through. The moderate Fatah and the radical Hamas parted ways violently in 2007, when Hamas seized the Gaza Strip by force, expelling Fatah, which reasserted its jurisdiction over Palestinian-controlled parts of the West Bank, nullifying Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian elections of January 2006. This division handicapped the Palestinians at peace negotiations and eroded the legitimacy of President Mahmoud Abbas, whose term officially expired in 2009.
The hint of earnestness this time owes to the fact that both Hamas and Fatah are considerably weakened and isolated in a larger political context that has substantially changed. Hamas has lost its staunchest ally in Muslim Brotherhood-ruled Egypt, it has also lost its base in Damascus and Iran’s backing. Corruption-ridden Fatah and its leader Abbas, on the other hand, are very unpopular and it’s debatable if any deal Abbas would negotiate with the Israelis in the peace talks brokered by US Secretary of State John Kerry would be acceptable to the majority of Palestinians.
The accord, however, could upend the peace talks. It has drawn prompt criticism from both the US and Israel. Since the US, EU and Israel don’t negotiate directly with Hamas — labelled a terrorist organisation, which doesn’t recognise Israel’s right to exist and opposes the two-state roadmap — its presence in a future Palestinian unity government would effectively kill Kerry’s leg of the peace process, which expires on April 29. Israel’s first diplomatic move was to miss a negotiation session, against the backdrop of an IDF air strike in Gaza and rocket-fire aimed at southern Israel. Unless Abbas guarantees Hamas’s agreement to his terms, the accord, while cheering leadership-deprived Palestinians, could end up costing them indispensable financial aid from the US and EU.