At the beginning of the year, Hamas and Fatah were close to signing a
reconciliation agreement brokered by Egypt. At the last minute, however, Khaled
Mashaal, leader of Hamas’s political wing, which is based in Damascus, nixed the
But then the ground shook in Syria and he suddenly changed his
mind. As the fate of his patron, Syrian President Bashar Assad, hung in the
balance, Mashaal made a calculated tactical decision to try and ensure his
political survival by approving the reconciliation deal, which just months
earlier he had conspicuously rejected.
'Fatah-Hamas unity a blow to peace, victory for terrorism'
Mashaal: Palestinians' common enemy is Israel
This is one of the reasons why,
according to Israel, the chances are slim that the reconciliation agreement
signed between Fatah and Hamas on Wednesday will last.
Shin Bet (Israel
Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin referred to the disagreements over Hamas’s
desire to regain a foothold in the West Bank and Fatah’s desire to regain a
foothold in the Gaza Strip as just the beginning of the disagreements between
Attempts at establishing a Palestinian national unity
government are not new and have been ongoing since Hamas’s violent takeover of
the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007.
The senior Fatah official, Azzam
al-Ahmad, who brokered the current agreement was also behind the failed attempts
at reconciliation known as the Yemen Agreement of 2008 and the Mecca Agreement
of 2007. The expectation in Israel is that Wednesday’s Cairo Agreement will end
the same way.
What changed and made the deal happen on Wednesday is the
ongoing upheaval in the Middle East and Hamas’s concern that if Assad falls, it
will lose its logistical and political support. It is also concerned by the
possibility that the riots spreading across the Middle East will eventually
reach Gaza, where the Palestinian people will protest not against Israel but
against Hamas. Reconciliation with Fatah makes it seem as if the Palestinians
are on the verge of a new and better beginning.
These might be good
reasons for Hamas to make the deal, but they do not represent a significant
change in its policy or ideology. Despite the agreement with Fatah, Hamas
leaders continue to call for war with Israel, which Mashaal described on
Wednesday as Hamas and Fatah’s common enemy.
This is why Israel can make
a strong case against the new government. Following Hamas’s election victory in
2006, the Quartet set three conditions for the terrorist group to receive
international legitimacy: recognize Israel’s right to exist, recognize previous
agreements between Israel and the PLO, and cease terrorism. Hamas refused to
meet those conditions then and continues to refuse today.
Instead, it has
made a tactical decision that it hopes will provide it with a semblance of quiet
and stability at least until the end of the year.
With Assad possibly on
the verge of falling, Hamas might need to find a new haven – possibly in Jordan,
Qatar or even Egypt.
The announcement by Sheikh Yousef al- Qaradawi – the
Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual godfather – that he supports the Syrian
Sunnis in their fight against Assad and the Alawites has forced Mashaal and
Hamas – the Muslim Brotherhood’s offshoot – to decide whose side they are
On the other hand, the world is not necessarily overly interested in
the intricacies of the deal, and all Hamas and Fatah really need to do is retain
a façade of unity until the unilateral declaration of statehood at the United
Nations in September.
The national unity government that is to be
established now, and supposedly led by professionals, will help PA President
Mahmoud Abbas make a stronger case for statehood at the UN by showing the world
that the Palestinian people are united.
For Israel, this will be a
difficult argument to counter, particularly when peace talks remain deadlocked
and are basically nonexistent.