With Egypt serving as a go-between, senior representatives of Fatah and Hamas initialed a reconciliation agreement in Cairo on April 27 that puts an end to the governmental bifurcation between Ramallah and Gaza and paves the way to political partnership, reform of the PLO, and general elections. Azam Al-Ahmed headed the Fatah delegation, while Mousa Abu Marzouk headed the Hamas delegation. A formal signing of the agreement is expected next week, with the participation of Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.
The full text of the agreement has not yet been published, but its main points appear to be:
- The establishment of a government of technocrats instead of the two currently existing governments headed by Salam Fayyad and Ismail Haniye.
- The holding of general elections to the parliament and presidency in about eight months.
- A merger and unification of the security apparatuses.
- The release of political prisoners.
- Arab League supervision of the implementation of the agreement.
A number of parties worked together to secure the success of the intra-Palestinian reconciliation initiative. The new Egyptian regime, following the shocks that accompanied the end of the Mubarak era, is making use of the Palestinian card in order to strengthen its public standing as the party leading the campaign on behalf of Palestinian rights and against Israel. Changes in the Middle East, and first of all the undermining of the Syrian regime – the patron of Hamas, compels Hamas to reinforce its ties with Cairo and to be more prepared to assent to Egyptian demands that it display tactical diplomatic flexibility, intended to promote national Palestinian objectives and intensify the diplomatic pressure on Israel.
The Palestinian Authority, which is also directly impacted by the shockwaves buffeting the Arab world, is on a course of diplomatic confrontation with Israel in its aspiration to secure recognition of a Palestinian state next September at the UN General Assembly. A substantial condition for the receipt of diplomatic recognition is control of the entire Palestinian territory; hence, the importance of an agreement with Hamas to display governmental unity between Ramallah and Gaza.
The Palestinian diplomatic strategy focuses on denying the legitimacy of settlements and any Israeli security or civilian control whatsoever in the territories via international recognition of a Palestinian state in all areas of the West Bank and Gaza. Obtaining recognition for a Palestinian state would constitute the realization of Yasser Arafat’s objectives when he launched the Second Intifada in September 2000, namely, coercing Israel into a retreat for the purpose of establishing a recognized Palestinian state without the Palestinians having to make any concessions on substantial issues, such as on Jerusalem or refugees.
Previous experience, and the fact that Fatah and Hamas are bitter adversaries, instructs us that the test of this agreement, like previous ones, will be solely in its implementation. Declarations and good intentions did not succeed in the past to bridge the deep gaps between the parties over control and exclusive representation of the Palestinian people, and this includes the much-acclaimed Hamas-Fatah “Mecca Agreement” of 2007. The current agreement is in the category of a forced willingness to agree on general principles on the basis of a common political interest to obtain international recognition of a Palestinian state.
From the standpoint of the Israeli government, the agreement between Fatah and Hamas bodes ill from both a diplomatic perspective and from the standpoint of a Palestinian Authority declaration of intent. Abbas is incapable of presenting a democratic alternative to Hamas and other Palestinian terror organizations and prefers to live with them under one roof. This strategy previously cost the Palestinian Authority the loss of its rule in Gaza, and now it may facilitate a Hamas takeover of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and over the PLO institutions as well.
It was not by chance that Fatah and Hamas set the date of elections in eight months (i.e., December 2011 or January 2012), after the convening of the UN General Assembly. The elections will be the true test of the parties’ willingness to reach a genuine reconciliation. A European or American position that presents the conduct of elections as a precondition for a discussion of recognition of a Palestinian state would test the stability of the new alliance between Fatah and Hamas.
Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. and is a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.