Setting the Stage
Palestine’s political scene is dominated by rival parties Hamas and Fatah. After a decade-long rift, these parties have agreed to a reconciliation deal on Thursday, October 12th under Egyptian surveillance. Although the timing of the deal was surprising, the fact that it was reached was quite anticipated.
Hamas and Fatah, although both aiming towards building a Palestinian state based on the borders established in 1967, disagree on its most fundamental premises. The rift between the two parties began after Fatah was defeated in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, which led to Hamas becoming the de facto ruler in the Gaza strip ever since.
Hamas, an offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, is a Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist organization with a military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades. Due to the party’s confrontational stance with Israel, the Brigades have often launched attacks on Israeli military and civilian targets. These attacks have led to the organization being labeled as a terrorist organization by much of the western world, including the European Nation, the United States, as well as Israel.
Fatah, a secular party, is the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organization. Although the movement began as an armed struggle to liberate Palestine from Israel, the party has chosen to pursue a path of negotiation with Israel since the 1980s. This continues to be the greatest defining factor differentiating the two Palestinian parties. Most commonly associated with Yasser Arafat, this PLO derivative renounced armed resistance and supported the UNSC Resolution 242, which aims to build a Palestinian state alongside an Israeli state.
Although their objectives are very similar, what has caused such a long rift between these two parties is undoubtedly their difference in strategy on how they interact with Israel. Fatah believes in the possibility of negotiation with Israel, whilst Hamas clings to armed resistance.
However, with the objective of reconciliation, the new deal between Hamas and Fatah could mean a long overdue unity in government. But, will Hamas truly cede armed resistance in Gaza?
Israel’s Point of View
The Cairo deal offers potential relief from shortages of electricity and other restrictions of basic human rights for Gaza inhabitants, as Hamas gives up administrative control of the territory to Palestinian Authority. From a political stance, the deal suggests the possibility of negotiations with Israel on a consolidated front, as Hamas and Fatah optimistically unite into a single voice.
What may come to be the cause of the demise of the reconciliation deal between the two Palestinian rival parties, ironically enough, could be Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated on Twitter that the state “opposes any reconciliation in which the terrorist organization Hamas does not disarm and end its war to destroy Israel”. Although the deal does cover border crossing arrangements, the key issue of Hamas’ disarmament is mentioned nowhere in the agreement. After subsequent attacks in Israel from Hamas, the state is rightfully cautious of any deal signed by what it views as being a terrorist organization. The Prime Minister continued to tweet that “reconciling with mass-murderers is part of the problem, not part of the solution.”
The main concerns of the Netanyahu administration with the reconciliation deal include border crossings and the potential of weapon smuggling for Hamas terror efforts within Israel, Hamas arsenal, and support of Hamas by the Palestinian Authority, reflected in a statement of preconditions issued by the Israeli security cabinet. However, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority stated that the reconciliation deal was of national interest to Palestine, and thus that the rejections of the Israeli government would not change the brokerage of the deal.
Rightfully so, the Israeli government emphasizes that negotiating with a united Palestinian Authority would mean their willingness to negotiate with a terrorist organization.
Although Israel does have legitimate concerns based on a history of violence with Hamas, it is notably important to emphasize Hamas efforts in the past year to rebrand itself as a much more moderate organization. The Sunni-militant organization updated its founding charter earlier this year in which it accepted the 1967 established borders of the Palestinian state. Hamas also previously dissolved their committee running the Gaza strip as preparation for the reconciliation deal with Fatah.
However, although Hamas has recently attempted to offshoot from its ties to terrorism and violence, the recent reconciliation deal has revealed their true commitment to weaponry and to their position against Israel. Although Hamas is ready to give up administrative control of Gaza, it has so far vowed not to disarm its militia or recognize Israel. However, Yahya Sinwar, leader of the Hamas militia, is devoted to concede civilian control over the Gaza strip, and arrangements of disarmament may be discussed once an arrangement has been reached about the occupation of Gaza.
What does this mean for Palestine’s future?
First and foremost, what could be better for President Mahmoud Abbas than a reconciliation deal between the two historically rival parties? After a decade of violence and political shift, reaching such a peace deal and creating a united political front would lead to a legacy for the Palestinian Authority and the President.
One issue concerning the future of Palestine following the reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah regards current Hamas institutions in Gaza. After the organization cedes administrative control of the region, what will occur to those employed by such institutions and how will their salaries be replaced? Once the premises of the deal are agreed upon, the fate of about 50,000 employees within Hamas institutions will be unsure. In past attempts at reconciliation deals, Hamas attempted to guarantee these employees of their financial and administrative entitlements, but the Palestinian Authority always refused to recognize them.
Allowing Hamas to unite with Fatah could also lead to the radicalization of the Palestinian Authority. Fatah was after all once an armed liberation movement, and although it is now committed to peaceful negotiations with Israel, radical Hamas could influence Fatah to do otherwise. This would mean an increase in violence with Israel, possible sanctions by countries that have been historically opposed to Hamas, and increasing hostility from the international community.
As previously discussed, a large part of political talks surrounding the reconciliation deal concerns Hamas’ arsenal. Although we cannot be sure of whether the militia organization will disarm, the possibility of disarmament will only arise after an agreement is settled relating to Gaza. Although the international community has up to this point been relatively supportive of the reconciliation deal, including the United States, this does not mean that they will support the continued armament of Hamas militias.
Although the future of Palestine after the reconciliation deal is put into effect is largely unknown, its most positive effect would lead to a united Palestinian front and decreased violence along the border with Israel. Most importantly, the agreement will lead to an increased standard of living in Gaza as well as the possibility of free movement, which is undoubtedly a human right.
Nevertheless, it is important for Palestine to welcome Hamas with some caution, in order to ensure that its policies will not fall into radical fundamentalism and that it is prepared to fully ensure the protection of Gaza inhabitants.
Pauline Crepy is in the second year of a Political Science and Latin American Studies degree at McGill University, who aims to relay her passion for development and global cooperation. Pauline can be contacted at email@example.com.