On Wednesday 23 April, a meeting of Palestinian leaders resulted in a reconciliation pact between the Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas. Both groups agreed to form a national government under the umbrella of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). The US and Israel fear the new-found unity might derail the peace process.
The former rivals agreed to form a government within five weeks and to hold general elections in six months. The agreement marks the end of a three year struggle to end the discord between Fatah and Hamas. Previous attempts to gain an understanding have failed, but this time internal division makes a deal possible. Hamas has become ever more isolated internationally after the ousting of the Muslim Brotherhood from Egypt and Fatah has been damaged by the failure of peace negotiations with Israel.
The announcement was made in Gaze City. Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh announced the terms of the agreement. He stated the deal came as "the entire city of Jerusalem has been painted Jewish with an attempt to wipe out the Arab identity and desecrate the Muslim and Christian sanctities". Fatah delegation leader, Azzam al-Ahmed, said he hoped the agreement “will be a true beginning for a true partnership in all our spectrums; political, social and societal".
The Palestinian Territories have been divided between Fatah and Hamas since the 2007 civil war. The secular central-left Palestinian movement Fatah governs the West Bank. Fatah, ruled by Mahmoud Abbas, endeavors to establish a Palestinian state, next to Israel, by gaining international recognition for his plans. The Islamist movement Hamas governs the Gaza Strip and desires the establishment of a greater Palestine, destroying Israel in the process.
Rivalries between Fatah and Hamas started after Hamas won the Palestinian elections in 2006. Despite the victory Hamas was forced to accept a government of national unity and to recognize the state of Israel if it wanted to form a government, Hamas refused. Fighting broke out between the two factions which escalated into civil war in 2007. The Palestinian Authority dismissed Hamas and gave their seats to Fatah. Hamas violently took control of the Gaza Strip while Fatah remained in control over the West Bank.
A factor of discord between Hamas and Fatah is Israel. Hamas demands the dissolution of Israel in order to establish a greater Palestinian state. Hamas is regarded by Israel and the West as a terrorist organization, while it finds support amongst several Arabic nations. Fatah on the other hand is in favor of coexistence with Israel, the two state solution.
International reactions to the deal
Israel was quick to respond to the deal between Hamas and Fatah. Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Nethanyahu said Abbas was moving towards peace with Hamas instead of Israel, he said: “Does he [Abbas] 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". After the announcement Israel cancelled a planned session of peace negotiations with the Palestinians.
Critics claim the Palestinian move threatens to destroy the peace process. A spokesman of the United States State Department, Jen Psaki, said the United States was troubled by the announcement and believed it can seriously complicate peace negotiations. Psaki said: "This certainly is disappointing and raises concerns about our efforts to extend the negotiations".
The US sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority are scheduled to end by 29 April. So far the talks have remained largely inconclusive. Critics say the agreement between Fatah and Hamas will make it rather difficult for the US to seek a nine-month extension of those talks.
Sources: Al Jazeera, The Guardian, Reuters.
Author: Koen Migchelbrink