Making the old city young again

List All Facts and Opinions Print
Mitchell Bard on Hamas-Fatah
Myth: "Hamas-Fatah reconciliation paves the way to peace negotiations with Israel.'"


In uniting for the first time since 2007, Hamas and Fatah, rulers of the Gaza Strip and West Bank, respectively, have theoretically made negotiating a final peace deal with Israel more realistic. Previously, Israel negotiated exclusively with Fatah, which, even if willing to do so, could not sign an agreement that would end the conflict because Hamas  opposed peace with Israel.
The reconciliation pact, signed in Egypt on May 4, 2011, joins the two leading Palestinian parties in a caretaker government until long overdue parliamentary elections can be held. Former President Jimmy Carter and others contend the pact "will help Palestinian democracy and establish
the basis for a unified Palestinian state ... that can make a secure peace with Israel." 543 Practically, however, the reconciliation agreement
does little to create the framework for a democratic Palestinian state and makes peace withIsrael virtually impossible to achieve. 
Neither party has shown any interest in democracy. Fatahhas repeatedly delayed scheduled elections, primarily due to fear of losing to Hamas,
as it did in the last election. Both, meanwhile, have ruled autocratically and abused the human rights of the Palestinians under their control. Hamas remains committed to creating an Iranian-style Islamic government and has created an oppressive environment in Gaza for non-Muslims and Muslims alike.
Internal politics are of less concern to Israel than the unwavering antagonism of Hamas toward peace. Hamasofficials have repeatedly said they are committed to Israel'sdestruction and have said their views have not changed in reconciling with Fatah.  After signing the deal, Hamas officialMahmoud Zahar reiterated his organization's refusal to recognize Israel and abandon their armed resistance, citing the belief that doing so would "cancel
the right of the next generation to liberate the land." 543a
Moreover, Fatah officials have gone out of their way to say they do not expect Hamas to change its attitude towardIsrael. Nabil Shaath, a high-ranking aide to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said that demanding Hamas to renounce terrorism and recognize Israel is "unfair, unworkable and does
not make sense." 544
The future of security cooperation between Hamas andFatah also looms as a major concern to both Israel and theUnited States. The United States
alone has spent $542 million since 2005 in training and arming the Palestinian Authority's National Security Force in the West Bank, a force that has gained operational legitimacy with the IDF for its counter-terror efforts. 545 Under the unity pact, Hamas' security apparatus- which prides itself on actively targetingIsrael - will be integrated into the PA force, basically spelling an end to the Palestinian commitment to fight terror. 546Moreover, the agreement requires Fatah to release hundreds of Hamas militants who are currently imprisoned in the West Bank, a move that would pose a serious security risk forIsrael and destroy the goodwill the PA built with Israel from arresting these men in the first place. 547 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted that this stipulation would mean "a tremendous blow to peace and a great victory for terrorism." 548 The danger to Israel has also grown as a result of Egypt's decision to open the border withGaza, thereby facilitating Hamas arms smuggling.
The decision to reconcile appears to be a tactical one based on necessity rather than on a commonality of views. Fatahhas grown progressively weaker in the West Bank and is known for its corruption. Officials seeing the revolutionary fervor against similarly corrupt, autocratic regimes fear an uprising against them and believe a unity deal will mollify the Palestinian street. Fatah also wants to press the UN tounilaterally declare a state of Palestine and is afraid that countries may have an excuse to vote against the Palestinians if they are divided. Hamas also has an incentive to work with its rivals because of fears it will lose a major base of support if the Assad regime falls in Syria and because it has faith that it can take over the Palestinian Authority from within if elections are held and it is allowed to spread its tentacles further in the West Bank.
It remains to be seen if the reconciliation will take place and last. Previous efforts have foundered over the division of power and ideology. The fact
that Hamas has not retreated from its positions on Israel, Islam or its rightful share of power reduce the likelihood of the factions remaining united.
Regardless, the Quartet has made clear the conditions under which it will work with Hamas, namely, the need for Hamasto recognize Israel's right to exist, eschew terror and agree to honor past Israel-Palestinian agreements. Hamas has refused to meet these conditions and therefore the Quartet is required to shun the unity government. 549 
The Fatah decision to abandon the way of peace and join the terrorists calling for armed struggle to bring about Israel'sdestruction also threatens Palestinian well-being. After watching its economy boom in the last few years, in large part because of Israeli and international assistance, the world is likely to reconsider its support for a government that includes terrorists. The United States may now be required by law to cut off all aid to the PA. According to House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) , "U.S. taxpayer funding [to terrorist organizations] is prohibited under current law." 550 Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) initiated a letter, cosigned by 27 Democratic senators, calling for President Obama
to suspend the $500 million in annual aid to the PA until Hamasrenounces terrorism. 551 
Ultimately, the Palestinians must unite to achieve their national goals, but by allowing the terrorists of Hamas,Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine to become part of their government,Fatah has distanced itself even further from those who have
worked to create an independent Palestine. 552 The Palestinians do indeed need to reconcile- but with Israel, not Hamas. 
Israel's leaders, who have begged the Palestinians to agree to a two-state solution, now see no one with whom to negotiate. Thus, rather than
improve the prospects for ending the conflict, the Palestinians have taken yet another step away from peace and reconciliation with their neighbors
and ensured that negotiations will remain in limbo and Palestinian statehood a dream.
543 Jimmy Carter, "Support the Palestinian Unity Government",Washington Post, (May 3, 2011).
543a JPost Staff, "Zahar: Hamas will Accept Palestinian State on '67 Borders", Jerusalem Post, (May 11, 2011).
544 Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu, "Advisor to Abbas: Hamas has No Need to Recognize Israel", Arutz Sheva, (May 4, 2011).
545 Ethan Bronner, "Accord Brings New Sense of Urgency to Israeli-Palestinian Conflict", The New York Times, (May 5, 2011).
546 Elliott Abrams, "The End of the 'Peace Process'", Council on Foreign Relations, (May 6, 2011).
547 Avi Issacharoff, "Gaps Between Hamas, Fatah Loom Large Despite Unity Deal", HaAretz, (May 4, 2011).
548 Tovah Lazaroff, "Netanyahu: Fatah-Hamas Unity a Blow to Peace", Jerusalem Post, (May 4, 2011).
549 Ethan Bronner, "Hamas Leader Calls for Two State Solution, but Refuses to Renounce Violence", The New York Times, (May 5, 2011).
550 Jennifer Rubin, "Interview with Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Part 1)", Washington Post, (May 4, 2011).
551 Wire Staff, "Half of Democratic Senators Urge PA Aid Cut Off",JTA, (May 8, 2011).
552 Wire Staff, "Palestinian Factions Sign Unity Deal in Cairo", Ahlul Bayt News Agency, (May 4, 2011).