Representatives from the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA), which semi-governs the West Bank, and the Gaza-based Hamas signed a reconciliation deal that aims to implement a unity agreement from 2011, in Egypt’s capital Cairo on 12 October. The agreement was reached after PA had been imposing restrictive measures against the Gaza Strip for several months, such as a reduction of electricity supply to Gaza, in order to push Hamas to relinquish control of the area. Hamas was already under pressure, after a major diplomatic dispute broke out between its main patron and donor, Qatar, and key allies like Saudi Arabia in June. According to Hamas and Fatah, the Palestinian deal should end a series of conflicts between the two parties, thereby making steps to achieve the ‘Palestinian dream’, an independent and sovereign state on the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, and with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Details of the agreement have not yet been made public, but Hamas said it will dissolve its administrative committee in the Gaza Strip. Instead a national unity interim government, which comprises both Fatah and Hamas officials, will take responsibility for the area before general elections. However, the conducting of legislative, presidential and national council elections within one year from now, as envisioned in the deal, needs to be further elaborated in a next meeting in late November. The more contentious issues, such as the disarming of Hamas’ militant wing, were also set aside for that meeting . On 12 October, the two sides also agreed that presidential guards of PA President Abbas will be stationed on the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza by 1 November. The EUBAM, the European Union border agency, will be supervising the border crossing. Both rivals hope this encourages Egypt and Israel to lift their tight restrictions. Furthermore, both groups said they would not return to the occupied Palestinian Territories until they had a ‘’final agreement that would put aside the rift forever.’’
Israel and US reactions
Israel considers the new Palestinian agreement warily, saying the deal must also include previous international agreements, including disarming of Hamas and recognition of Israel’s statehood. ‘’Israel will examine developments in the field and act accordingly,’’ said a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
The US Department of State said the Palestinian reconciliation agreement is an import step in the Palestinian conflict. The US will closely watch the humanitarian situation in Gaza, a spokesman of the department said.
Hamas and Fatah: one objective, two approaches
Although Hamas and Fatah pursue the same objective, an independent Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, their approaches are quite different. The secular Fatah movement was founded in the late 1950s and became the dominant party in the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), which comprises several political parties and acts as the representative of Palestinian people at the United Nations. Initially the Fatah movement aimed to liberate Palestine by force, but after its armed groups were pushed out in Jordan and Lebanon, the party chose the diplomatic route to reach the ‘Palestinian dream’. In the 1990’s, the interim semi-autonomous body Palestinian Authority was created to lead the independent sovereign state alongside the Israeli state, as envisioned in the Oslo Accords.
The PA governs about 40 per cent of the West Bank now, while Israel controls the other 60 per cent. Following the 1993 Oslo Accords, the PA must coordinate with Israel to oversee the security in the Gaza Strip and to prevent possible attacks against Israel. This regulation often leads to criticism and protests by Palestinian people, accusing Fatah of collaborating with the Israeli occupation.
The Islamic Hamas was founded in 1987, after the first Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation. In contrast to the Fatah, Hamas does not recognise the Israeli state that was founded in 1948. The movement pursues an armed struggle against Israel in its objective to liberate Palestine. Currently, it holds 25.000 well-armed militants. Hamas is quite popular among Palestinians because it provides social welfare programmes.
Some experts say it is precisely the different approaches of Hamas and Fatah that make the new deal fragile. ‘’The PA does not believe in the legitimacy of Hamas' arms. This means that the PA wants to end the resistance in Gaza and Hamas refuses that. And if Fatah accepts the resistance, Israel will take measures against the PA. This will inevitably lead to the destruction of the potential new unity government,’’ political analyst Abdulsattar Qassem said. Other experts are more hopeful, saying the deal is more likely to stick than earlier attempts at reconciliation due to Hamas’ growing financial and political isolation, and Gaza’s poor economic conditions.
A decade-long rift
Although Hamas and Fatah were not on the same page with respect to their approaches towards Israel from the beginning, relations between them deteriorated further in 2006, after President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party did not recognise the outcome of the parliamentary elections, as it lost to the political wing of Hamas, which was founded in 2005. Thereafter, the political party was pushed out of Gaza in an armed conflict. Since then, Hamas is de-facto ruler in the area, while the semi-autonomous body of PA governs the West Bank along with Israel.
Israel never recognised Hamas’ victory in 2006, as it considers the movement a terrorist organisation that aims to destroy the Israeli state. Since Hamas became de-facto ruler in the Gaza Strip, Israel and Hamas were involved in three bloody wars, killing hundreds of people.