The word “reconciliation” rings of hope and optimism to the Western ear. Reconciliation means leaving past grievances behind, letting bygones be bygones. Optimism over reconciliation may help us understand why the United States is prepared to support and fund a new Hamas-Fatah interim government.
But do Hamas and Fatah understand the newly formed consensus government as the West does? For students of Islam and the Near East, the meaning of the freshly-minted reconciliation government is more aptly expressed as “sulh” which means that both sides are “licking their wounds” or “taking a breather” until one side regains the ability to impose its will on the other.
Palestinian reconciliation is not a case of the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority moderating Hamas. The opposite is true. In fact, Hamas and Fatah are competing for Palestinian public support. That’s why both organizations rejected US Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace plan. And that’s why both organizations call for “resistance” against Israel. Hamas still calls openly for jihad, while the Fatah leadership calls for an “armed popular revolution” to liberate “Palestine,” meaning Israel and the disputed territories of Judea and Samaria – the former West Bank of Jordan.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ engagement with Kerry during the past nine months of diplomatic talks cost the Palestinian leader points with the Palestinian public. Abbas would have faced the Palestinian guillotine for selling out the Palestinian cause in a compromise deal with Israel.
Remember the Palestinian people’s recent protest song that was sent to Kerry and that took YouTube by storm just weeks ago? It accused the US secretary of state of “presenting a Zionist plan.” It also warned Abbas to uphold Palestinian rights, otherwise, “The people and I will take to the street and chant against you and demand you go away.”
Abbas apparently got the message. His ultimate rejection of American peace mediation resulted in Abbas’ “sulh” or temporary reconciliation with Hamas.
The New York Times and other international media regard newly appointed Palestinian government ministers as “technocrats made up largely of lawyers, businessmen and academics who are not formally tied to either Fatah or Hamas” and “led by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, a linguist and former university president who has held the top post in the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority for the past year.”
This is true. However, every Palestinian resident in the West Bank knows that the new unity government is insignificant.
What is important is the Fatah-Hamas agreement and their ongoing behind-the-scenes power struggle that underpins the government. The issue for both leaderships is whether economic support will continue to flow, particularly to Hamas in Gaza.
The Obama administration’s decision to support the Palestinian unity government legitimizes Hamas at a critical moment for this Muslim Brotherhood. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have both outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood – Hamas’s parent organization.
Both the United States and the EU have designated Hamas a terrorist organization.
And still, Hamas has found a way to reinvent itself and maintain funding sources for Gaza via the US the EU and Qatar through this Hamas-Fatah agreement.
It might be helpful to consider the prospects for the current Palestinian unity government in the context of the two movements’ violent struggle for Palestinian leadership.
Hamas’s suicide terror campaigns during the Oslo years demonstrated to Fatah who ruled the Palestinian street. Fatah returned the message by competing with Hamas’ suicide terrorism. Fatah carried out deadly assaults against Israelis during the second intifada from 2000 to 2005. The Hamas-Fatah struggle culminated in Hamas’s takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007.
YouTube documented the bloody intra-Palestinian atrocities. Hamas hurled Fatah members from the roofs of Gaza apartment buildings. Fatah, for its part, tortured hundreds of Hamas activists.
The Hamas-Fatah relationship has always been punctuated by violence. However, their goals vis a vis Israel are similar, justifying the current “consensus” government, as the Palestinians call it. Hamas is ideologically and religiously committed to destroying Israel. The Hamas charter is clear on that point. Hamas proved its terrorism bonafides by firing thousands of rockets at Israeli cities since Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, and by its material support for jihadists in Sinai Peninsula.
As for Fatah, its more nuanced declarations still call for Israel’s destruction. Fatah’s 6th Congress in Bethlehem in 2009 featured its internal order document declared that, “The armed popular revolution is the only inevitable way to the liberation of Palestine,” and added that, “The struggle will not end until the elimination of the Zionist entity and the liberation of Palestine.”
The Palestinian unity government of so-called “non-affiliated technocrats” has publicly agreed to the diplomatic Quartet’s requirements as demanded by the US and the EU. However, the underlying Hamas-Fatah consensus on Israel reflects the true and worrying nature of this latest Palestinian reconciliation.
One hopes that the US administration and its European allies are vigilant and avoid succumbing to the Palestinian smokescreen that is clouding the skies over the new Palestinian unity government.
Dan Diker is head of the desk on terrorism and delegitimization at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism at the IDC, Herzliya.
Dr. Harold Rhode is a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute in New York. He served as Islamic Affairs expert in the office of the US Secretary of Defense from 1982 to 2010.