The Palestinian reconciliation talks in Cairo ended on February 9, 2021, with a declaration of success1 and the confirmation of the parliamentary elections on May 22, 2021, as announced by Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Chairman of Hamas’ Political Bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, was quick to thank Mahmoud Abbas for supporting the reconciliation.
However, when talking to people in Ramallah, the Authority’s seat of office, you get a different picture.
One of the surprises was the “elephant in the room” – the Hague International Criminal Court’s decision to investigate Israeli war crimes would also allow investigations of Hamas for war crimes. Hamas demanded that the PLO remove the ruling from the Hague concerning them. It is unclear how the PLO would do that.
A serious problem that has not been solved is the Palestinians’ requirement to establish a joint political list that will express the return of the National Union. This demand is acceptable to Fatah and Hamas, but it has not been agreed upon, and there will be further dialogue to summarize this issue. Deciding on a joint list between rivals is acceptable in Palestinian culture and is called “tazkiya [partnership agreement].”
Hamas will also wait to see what happens in The Hague. If the tribunal decides to continue the investigation processes, a violent confrontation in the West Bank between Fatah and Hamas could break out, with Fatah fearing that a Hamas partnership will hurt its legitimacy.
This will give Israel an opportunity to claim that the formal connection between Fatah and Hamas in a Palestinian state recognized by the Hague tribunal is a terrorist state, and its leaders must be held accountable for war crimes.
By holding the talks in Cairo, Egypt seeks to display its leadership in the Arab world and turn Gaza’s energies northward toward Israel and the West Bank and away from Sinai and Egypt.
Ramallah takes pride in their achievements in the earlier Istanbul talks in September 2020, in which Hamas and Qatar agreed to recognize the PLO as the sole representative of the Palestinians, but it is a temptation to allow Hamas leaders from the West Bank (in exile) such as Khalid Mashaal and Saleh al-Arouri to gain legitimacy in the race for Mahmoud Abbas’ successor.
Will Fatah accept this? And what will happen with Fatah’s internal differences, the status of Marwan Barghouti and Muhammed Dahlan?
It is doubtful if these problems will be resolved by May – if at all.
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