Will This Palestinian Reconciliation Last?

Jewish Light Editorial

Over the past decade, several reconciliation deals between Fatah, the dominant faction in the Palestinian Authority under the Palestine Liberation Organization, and Hamas, the militant offshoot of the radical Muslim Brotherhood, have been announced with great fanfare.  

But since Hamas seized de facto control of the Gaza Strip, the relationship between the two entities has been about as stable as the roster of top officials in the Trump administration. So the latest news of yet another “government of national unity” between the two squabbling factions has been greeted by some observers of the Middle East conflict with a shrug of the shoulders and a yawn.  

Another deal?  What else is new?  In the current crazy quilt of Middle East geopolitics, skepticism is understandable, given the quick collapse of past agreements. But this time around, there may be glimmers of hope that the deal could lead to greater stability among the Palestinians.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the oldest Islamist political movement in the Middle East, was founded in Egypt in the 1920s. Secular regimes in Egypt have regarded the brotherhood as a criminal organization, and its members were jailed and prevented from running for office, except for the brief period of the Arab Spring when Mohammed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood won a term as president of Egypt.  

Mori was removed from office by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the secular military leader whose approach is similar to that of past Egyptian heads of state such as Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak.

The United States and the European Union consider both the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, its branch in Gaza, to be terrorist organizations.  Hamas took over control of the Gaza Strip in 2014.  When Hamas was founded in 1987, during the first intifada, some Israelis hoped it could become an effective counterweight to PLO and Fatah.  Those hopes faded when Hamas made it clear that it continued to support terrorist violence against Israel, and it has allied itself with Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Meanwhile, the PLO only recognizes secular factions like Fatah as members of the umbrella organization.  Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah control the West Bank of the Jordan River, with a capital in Ramallah, while Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel, rules from Gaza City.

The latest reconciliation talks were hosted in Cairo by Egypt’s Sisi government.  Sisi honors the Egypt-Israel peace treaty and is considered eager to play honest broker to bring the two factions together and make a two-state solution possible between Israel and the Palestinians.  After signing an interim deal in Cairo, the two sides have agreed to meet next month to discuss long-delayed presidential and parliamentary elections.  

But obstacles remain. Abbas, who has consistently renounced terrorism since his predecessor Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Accords with Israel in 1993, is regarded as weak and unpopular.  He and his Fatah associates fear that a truly free election will result in a Hamas president and a Hamas-controlled Palestinian Parliament.  

Abbas does not want the deal to be based on the situation in Lebanon, which is controlled by Hezbollah, a Shia terrorist organization allied with Iran and Syria against Israel. Azzam al-Ahmad, the Palestinian Authority’s representative to the reconciliation process put it this way: “We need this (deal) to face the occupation and establish the Palestinian state.”

Interestingly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not reject the latest reconciliation deal out of hand.  He said last week that for there to be peace, Palestinians would have to recognize Israel as the home of his people, dismantle Hamas’ military wing and cut ties between Hamas and Iran, which itself vows Israel’s destruction.

At this point, Hamas might be more flexible in its quest to get a deal solidified. The Washington Post reports that “Gaza is in the midst of a worsening humanitarian crisis that has paralyzed daily life for its 2 million inhabitants.” Fatah, Hamas’ supposed new partner was responsible for shutting off electricity in Gaza, adding to its hardships. 

To bring relief to Gaza’s increasingly restive population, Hamas might be ready to go the extra mile to nail down an agreement with Fatah, its longtime rival.  

Past attempts to “reconcile” Hamas and the PLO have collapsed before the ink was dry on the agreement.  If Hamas is willing to recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and end its partnership with Iran and Hezbollah it might be possible to achieve a two-state solution.  But much more work needs to be done for this to happen.