The leaders of Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement in Cairo on
Wednesday, ending their schism that began four years ago.
“We announce to
Palestinians that we turn forever the black page of division,” Palestinian
Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also chairman of both Fatah and the
PLO, said in his opening address.
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The meeting marked the first time since
2006 that Abbas met with Khaled Mashaal, the Damascus-based leader of
Arab MKs Ahmed Tibi, Muhammad Barakei and Taleb a-Sanaa traveled
to Cairo to witness the ceremony.
Their participation was blasted by
several of their Jewish colleagues as an act of treason.
Mashaal said his
group’s only fight was against Israel, not rival Palestinians.
decided to pay any price so that reconciliation is achieved,” he
“Our real fight is with the Israeli occupier, not Palestinian
factions and sons of the one nation.
“Our aim is to establish a free and
completely sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip,
whose capital is Jerusalem, without any settlers and without giving up a single
inch of land and without giving up on [refugees’] right of return,” Mashaal
In what appeared to be a sign of lingering friction, Mashaal did
not share the podium with Abbas and the ceremony was delayed briefly over where
he would sit.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said the agreement struck
a blow to peace, while rewarding terrorism.
Some Israeli experts said the
coming together of the two factions was a marriage of convenience, that was not
likely to last.
“This is an artificial reconciliation,” said Yoni Ben-
Menachem, a research fellow at the International Institute for Counterterrorism
at the IDC Herzliya and a veteran analyst of Palestinian affairs.
sides have an interest in making a deal.
In the long run, it’s only going
to be a temporary deal.”
In September, Abbas is widely expected to ask
the UN General Assembly to recognize a Palestinian state in all of the West Bank
and Gaza – a move opposed by Israel and the United States.
is in September. Both sides have an interest in reaching September united,”
Abbas “doesn’t want to go to the UN and have other
countries ask him, ‘Why do you want us to recognize Palestine when you don’t
control part of it?’ And Hamas feels Abbas is going to have a big success in the
UN, so they want to ride that wave of success and not be left behind,” he
The agreement calls for the formation of an interim PA government
to run the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and to prepare for longoverdue
parliamentary and presidential elections within a year.
expectations, neither Abbas nor Mashaal signed the unity document – signed in
the presence of UN, EU and Arab League representatives – though it remained
In his speech, Abbas repeated his call for a halt to
settlement construction as a condition for resuming peace talks with
“The state of Palestine must be born this year,” he
Hours before the agreement was signed, Gaza’s Hamas government
executed a man convicted of collaborating with Israel, openly defying Abbas. The
man was executed by firing squad after being sentenced to death last month for
helping “the Israeli occupation,” Hamas’s Interior Ministry said, referring to
him only by his initials A.S.
Under Palestinian law, executions should be
carried out only with presidential approval. It was not clear if the execution
had been rushed through ahead of the unity ceremony in Egypt, or whether Hamas
would seek Abbas’s approval in the future.
The PA president was later
visited by Mashaal to discuss the deal, Palestinian sources said.
of the two factions will meet next week, likely in Cairo, to work on instituting
the agreement, and Egypt has set up a committee to oversee its
Amr Moussa, the outgoing chief of the Arab League – and a
leading candidate in Egypt’s presidential race – said the agreement would unify
Palestinian negotiators and prevent Israel from claiming that all Palestinians
were not properly represented in negotiations.
“The description of Hamas
as a terrorist organization is over,” Moussa said in an interview with the
pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat.
Hamas has said in the past that it would
accept an interim solution in the form of a state in all of the territory Israel
gained in the Six Day War, along with a long-term cease-fire.
given peace since Madrid till now 20 years, and I say we are ready to agree
among us Palestinians and with Arab support to give an additional chance,”
Mashaal said, referring to the 1991 international Middle East peace conference
that launched Israeli-Arab peace talks.
“But, dear brothers, because
Israel does not respect us, and because Israel has rejected all our initiatives
and because Israel deliberately rejects Palestinian rights, rejects Fatah
members as well as Hamas... it wants the land, security and claims to want
peace,” he said.
The Cairo ceremony was greeted with celebrations in the
Gaza Strip. But the public displays were less enthusiastic in the West Bank,
where Abbas’s Fatah movement holds sway, and some doubted the deal was
The United States has reacted coolly to the reconciliation
accord. A State Department spokesman, Mark Toner, said the US would look at the
formation of any new Palestinian government before taking steps on future
David Makovsky, director of the Project on the Middle East Peace
Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, wrote on Tuesday,
“Although PA officials have indicated that security cooperation with Israel will
continue, it is difficult to imagine how the Palestinian power-sharing
arrangement will not hinder that partnership.
Hamas has long called for
Israel’s destruction, and most of the Israeli-PA security efforts have been
based on preventing Hamas terrorists from gaining a foothold in the West Bank.
This is perhaps the biggest test of Abbas’s credibility; while he is assuring
Washington, the EU and Israel that little will change, given his commitment to
coexistence, questions abound.”
“Once he enters a power-sharing agreement
with Hamas, he will probably lose US aid and impair his credibility – at least
in the United States and Israel – as a proponent of coexistence with Israel,”
Reuters contributed to this report.