Analysis: Cairo concludes Fatah-Hamas chasm won't end soon

Egypt calls off 'reconciliation' talks; many Palestinians also accept having two mini-states.

pals fight each other in (photo credit: AP)
pals fight each other in
(photo credit: AP)
Fatah and Hamas representatives were supposed to meet at "reconciliation" talks in Cairo this week under the auspices of the Egyptian government and the Arab League. However, the negotiations were called off by the Egyptians, who reached the conclusion that the gap between the rival Palestinian parties remained as wide as ever. The week that was supposed to mark the beginning of a new era in relations between Fatah and Hamas has turned into one of mutual accusations, threats and bad-mouthing. The Egyptians, along with several Arab countries, are now convinced that the split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is a long-term phenomenon. Many Palestinians have also come to accept the fact that they now have two mini-states. "We will have to live with the new reality where the Palestinians have two separate entities, one in the Gaza Strip and the second in the West Bank," an Egyptian diplomat told The Jerusalem Post. "The war between Fatah and Hamas is likely to continue for a long time." Previous attempts by Arab countries to solve the Hamas-Fatah crisis also failed. The Saudis were the first to learn how difficult it was to bridge the gap. The Mecca Agreement that they imposed on Hamas and Fatah leaders, and which saw the creation of a Palestinian unity government, lasted only for a few months. Earlier this year, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh thought he could succeed where the Saudi monarch failed. Saleh invited Hamas and Fatah representatives to Yemen for talks aimed at ending the dispute and "reuniting" the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. He even presented the two sides with his own initiative. Initially, both Hamas and Fatah appeared to have accepted the Yemini plan. But Saleh was in for a surprise: The apparent agreement between the sides lasted for less than three hours. In the wake of the failure of the Egyptian mediation efforts, Hamas and Fatah appear to be headed toward further confrontation. Hamas officials said Abbas's security forces are holding more than 400 Hamas supporters in prison in the West Bank. Fatah, on the other hand, said that this week alone Hamas arrested more than 120 of its supporters throughout the Gaza Strip. The two sides have also been holding each other responsible for the collapse of the Egyptian mediation efforts. Hamas believes that Abbas does not want to end the rift, because he's under heavy pressure from Israel and the US. Fatah is convinced that Iran, Syria and Qatar have been inciting Hamas not to make any concessions to Abbas. Tensions between Hamas and Fatah reached their peak this week as Palestinians marked the fourth anniversary of Yasser Arafat's death. Abbas used the annual rally commemorating Arafat to launch a scathing attack on Hamas, whose security forces responded by banning Fatah supporters from marking the occasion in the Gaza Strip. Such is the hostility that many young Palestinian men in the West Bank have begun shaving their beards out of fear of being targeted by Abbas's security forces for belonging to Hamas. In the Gaza Strip, the owners of printing houses refused to print posters of Arafat after being warned by the Hamas government that they would be arrested. Moreover, Fatah supporters and members are so scared of Hamas that they did not dare hold one public rally in the Gaza Strip to honor the late PLO chairman. Now that all efforts to solve the Hamas-Fatah strife have failed, the Palestinians' eyes are set on January 9, 2009, when Abbas's term expires. Hamas has already made it clear that it won't recognize his status as an elected leader beyond that date - a position that appears to be shared by a large number of Palestinians and Arabs. As such, the sides appear to be headed toward a major confrontation in the coming months, especially since Hamas has made it known that it intends to name one of its men as the next PA president. Abbas, who is eager to remain in power for at least another year, is now - according to some of his aides - determined to "wipe out" Hamas in the West Bank by the end of 2008 so that he won't face any serious challenges when he decides to unilaterally extend his term in office.