Fatah and Hamas Unite; Are Mideast Peace Talks in Jeopardy?

On Wednesday, another complication was added to the current peace talks between Israel and Palestine when Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’ political party, Fatah, signed a unity accord with Hamas (the party ruling the Gaza Strip and largely recognized as a terrorist organization), ending a 7 year divide within the Palestinian society.

Fatah and Hamas plan to form an interim unity government within 5 weeks, and they will hold parliamentary elections within 6 months.

Isreali Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his displeasure when learning about the agreement in a statement:

“Instead of moving into peace with Israel, he’s [Abbas] moving into peace with Hamas… Does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel? You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace; so far he hasn’t done so.”

However, President Abbas disagrees that acquiring peace with Israel or Hamas should be mutually exclusive.

He mentioned in a statement that there is “no incompatibility between reconciliation and the [peace] talks.” He maintains that Palestinian leadership remains committed to peace negotiations rooted in a two-state solution.

 

Hamas isn’t exactly a morally sound — or ideal — political organization. However, they have made progressive steps toward peace, such as agreeing to accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders if Israel recognizes the national rights of Palestinians.

In regards to Hamas’ armed struggle, it’s worth remembering that Fatah was a major part of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), a group that was also once labeled a terrorist organization. It wasn’t until the PLO denounced terrorism and recognized Israel that the U.S. and Israel would negotiate with the organization.

Whether or not one approves of Hamas’ role in Palestinian society is irrelevant because the fact is that they already exist. It would be a mistake to think that Hamas and Gaza could be ignored for the entirety of these negotiations without Israelis and Palestinians enduring consequences.

In Abbas’ view, integrating Hamas into current talks doesn’t imply his support for violence against Israel. Rather, it helps mitigate a potentially violent division within Palestinian society.

But many Israelis, including Netanyahu’s spokesman, Mark Regev, see the situation in a much different light.

“This is a move by President Abbas away from peace, away from reconciliation,” Regev stated. “We will not talk to a government that has in it people who say my country should be destroyed.”

 

Hamas has extremely strong ties to charitable social programs throughout the Gaza Strip, they have dwindling support from previous allies like the Muslim Brotherhood, Syria, and Iran, and the PA faces potential cuts from U.S. and EU funding if Hamas is granted government positions.

In other words, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are on thin ice.

Hopefully, Hamas will reflect on the PLO’s denouncement of violence against Israel, subsequent rise to political power in the late 80s, and recognize their opportunity to do the same now.

Netanyahu claims that the PA can have peace with either Israel or Hamas, but not both. However, this dichotomy doesn’t have to be true. Rather than assume this unification points to a radicalized Palestinian Authority, many hope it marks the integration of a moderate Hamas.

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem