Abbas meets Mashaal in Cairo 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Mohamed Al Hams/Handout)
Hamas and Fatah just ended another round of talks in Cairo on what they call
reconciliation. Both sides are reporting that progress was made, but they
have not yet reached the point of agreement on several key issues. In May of
this year Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas politburo
chief Khaled Mashaal signed an agreement orchestrated by Egyptian
intelligence. Initially the deal was described as a landmark
reconciliation pact aimed at ending their bitter four-year rift.
the deal was essentially a letter of intention to negotiate a process of
reconciliation that would lead to the reunification of the West Bank and Gaza
into one territorial unit under one governing power – as was designated in the
Oslo agreements. They agreed to negotiate the establishment of a government of
technocrats in which there would be neither Fatah nor Hamas
representation. The job of that government would be to begin the process
of the reconstruction of Gaza and to prepare for new national elections for
president and parliament within one year.
The document and the process
avoided dealing with the really difficult issues such as the reintegration of
the Palestinian security forces into one single force under one political
Hamas has opposed the idea of security coordination with
Israel as it is practiced by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. There,
the PA has systematically arrested Hamas militants and activists over the past
four years and longer. The Gaza forces under the leadership of Ahmad Ja’abri and
the Izaddin al-Kassam brigades used their brute force against Fatah security
personnel in June 2007 and forced them to flee Gaza.
Neither Fatah nor
Hamas can today envision surrendering power to the other or reintegrating their
The “on the surface” difficulty that has been discussed in the
media focused on the demand of Hamas to remove Salam Fayyad from the position of
prime minister in the new government. Fayyad is an independent and has never
been a member of Fatah or Hamas, but Hamas refuses to accept him as prime
minister because he is behind the campaign which has led to the arrest of
hundreds of Hamas activists in the West Bank.
Fatah, too, is not a big
fan of Fayyad because he successfully closed the money faucet to Fatah coffers,
but Abbas knows that Fayyad is a key to continuing to receive international
donor funds because Fayyad wields the trust of the western
Abbas has also demanded that Hamas adhere to his policy of no
more violence. Abbas rejects the armed struggle, was opposed to the
militarization of the second intifada under Arafat, and strongly rejects the
firing of rockets from Gaza at the Israeli civilian population. Hamas’s
adherence to a real cease-fire is a precondition for Abbas to advance the
HAMAS IS going through real change. The
winds of the Arab spring have crossed the Sinai, navigated through Philidephi
Corridor, flowed into the underground tunnels and have emerged in
Hamas has already been influenced by the changes in the Arab world.
They are de facto part of the opposition to the Assad regime in Syria. Tehran
offered the organization the opportunity to relocate operations to Iran, but
Hamas turned down the offer. Iran has ceased their funding and arming of
Hamas. Egypt’s doors are now open to Hamas and soon they will also
probably be operating out of Jordan as well – two countries with peace treaties
There are demands inside Hamas for democratic elections for
their ruling institutions, including the secret Shura Council. Hamas has been
enforcing a cease-fire and has been preventing (not with full success) rocket
fire into Israel. At this last round of Fatah-Hamas talks in Cairo, Hamas
has apparently agreed to accept the adoption of non-violent popular resistance
against Israel rather than active violent aggression.
What is happening
in Hamas today is a reaffirmation of something that one of the Hamas ideologues
explained to me several years ago and I rejected because it went against
everything that I knew about Hamas. He said that Hamas is a Palestinian
nationalist movement with religious Islamic roots.
Hamas’s goals, he
said, are the establishment of a Palestinian state that will be based on Islamic
jurisprudence – on Sharia, Islamic law, but it is first and foremost a political
movement. I had been taught, and I understood that Hamas was first and foremost
a religious movement – an Islamic movement which wanted a pan-Islamic caliphate
in the Middle East.
This is incorrect. Hamas’s political evolution is
proving that it is the first and not the latter. Religious movements don’t
change with the rapid pace of development that is happening in Hamas
HAMAS IS not joining the peace camp and still rejects Israel’s
right to exist. It is opposed to the idea of a peace treaty with Israel. But
according to what I have learned, Hamas has agreed that Abbas can continue to
try to negotiate with Israel if Israel agrees to freeze settlement building, and
if negotiations are based on the Obama parameters of the 1967 borders with
agreed territorial swaps.
Abbas has apparently given up hope regarding
the possibilities of positive negotiations with the Netanyahu- Lieberman
government, so much so that Hamas feels no threat to their basic positions. They
are skeptical that negotiations will even take place.
There is no doubt
that the further the peace process seems from the view in the muqata’a
(presidential headquarters) in Ramallah, the more likely the reconciliation
process between Fatah and Hamas will progress. Hamas leaders have told Abbas
that he should convey to the Israelis that there is no reason for Israel to feel
threatened by Palestinian reconciliation. They say that when there are two
Palestinian governments there is no one to negotiate with because who speaks for
And when there will be one Palestinian government representing
all of the Palestinian people, Israel responds by saying that it couldn’t
possibly negotiate with a government in which Hamas takes part. Very
If the Palestinian reconciliation process continues with the
adoption of more practical policies by the Hamas leadership and rank and file,
then the process will have positive outcomes for Israel and for the
Palestinians. It is time for the Palestinians to go back to the electorate. But
Israel should understand that Palestinian elections without a clear choice
between peace and conflict will likely end with more radical forces once again
winning those elections.
If given a clear choice, I have no doubt that
Palestinians will chose peace, but that is not the choice given to them at the
moment. Like in Israel, the public perception is that we need leaders who are
better at resistance than at peacemaking.
The writer is the Co-CEO of
IPCRI, the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information and a radio host
on All for Peace Radio.