For Hamas, reconciliation takes second seat to Israel talks

By supporting talks between Hamas and Tel Aviv, Qatar hopes to achieve a long-term truce between the two parties, in exchange for providing generous aid to the Islamist movement.
Tuesday 20/10/2020
Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub speaks as deputy Hamas chief Saleh Arouri appears on a television screen during a video conference, in Ramallah, last July. (REUTERS)
Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub speaks as deputy Hamas chief Saleh Arouri appears on a television screen during a video conference, in Ramallah, last July. (REUTERS)

RAMALLAH – The Palestinian Fatah movement has held its political rival Hamas responsible for delaying elections, accusing the party of failing to officially sign off on understandings that were discussed between the two movements’ delegations in Istanbul on September 24 that are necessary for the process to begin.

Fatah’s accusations come after Hamas leaders attempted to jumpstart a regional pressure campaign against the Palestinian Authority (PA) to discourage it from proceeding with a national reconciliation drive.

Hamas’s manoeuvres were recently exposed when a private statement attributed to Hamas Vice-President Saleh al-Arouri was leaked to the media.

In the leaked statement, Arouri said foreign pressures are weighing heavily on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He also added that it was difficult for Hamas to rebuild trust with Fatah and the PA.

Ongoing negotiations with Israel, sponsored by Qatar, have become a priority for Hamas leaders, overshadowing attempts to reconcile with Fatah. However, it appears reconciliation is still being discussed among members of the Islamist movement, as Arouri’s leaked statements reveal.

In what appeared to be an effort to force the Islamist movement to address the election issue, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, Rawhi Fattouh, declared in an interview aired Sunday on state television, “We in the movement’s Central Committee unanimously agreed to the understandings that were reached in Istanbul.”

“We are still waiting for Hamas political bureau to reach to President Mahmoud Abbas so he can issue decrees to hold elections,” he added.

“We still have hope that what has been agreed upon with Hamas in Istanbul will be accomplished,” the Fatah official said, adding that all Palestinian factions had agreed to participate in parliamentary election and not impede the process if they back out.

Fattouh also explained that parliamentary elections will be held first, followed by presidential elections and finally Palestinian National Council elections. “All will be carried out within six months,” he said.

“The ball is now in the court of Hamas to accept what was agreed upon,” he added, noting that “there is still hope.” He pointed out that all outstanding issues can be resolved after the elections.

Fattouh, however, revealed that some parties, “especially in Gaza,” might be delaying reconciliation because “some people may lose personal interests.”

Observers believe that the senior Fatah official’s recent statements are aimed at embarrassing Hamas and exposing the Islamist movement’s reluctance to proceed with general elections.

Hamas’s muddled position may be related to the Qatar-sponsored negotiations with Israel.

By supporting talks between Hamas and Tel Aviv, Qatar hopes to achieve a long-term truce between the two parties, in exchange for providing generous aid to the Islamist movement.

On Friday, Israel’s Maariv newspaper revealed that there is a Qatari aid programme for the Gaza Strip that will be coordinated with Israel. The Hebrew newspaper reported that Tel Aviv is seriously looking at forging a long-term truce with the Gaza Strip, and notes that Qatar is a central partner in the negotiation.

Hamas’s contact with Israel comes at a time when the relationship between Ramallah and Israel is almost severed, after the PA announced last August that it would stop security coordination with Tel Aviv.

It is not surprising, observers say, that Hamas and its regional sponsors, Qatar and Turkey, are trying to exploit the situation to promote the Islamist movement as a reliable party in future negotiations. This could, of course, be achieved if Israel and Hamas succeed in reaching a lengthy truce.

Observers point out that Hamas’s attempts to suggest that responsibility for Palestinians’ failure to reach internal reconciliation should fall on Fatah is a transparent attempt at evasion.

Hamas, in reality, is prolonging the rift by doubling down on differences with the PA over a set of understandings, the most prominent of which is the issues of joint electoral lists.

Palestinian sources explained to The Arab Weekly that understandings reached between Hamas and Fatah in Istanbul allow for legislative, local and presidential polls to be gradually held.

The prospect of creating joint Hamas-Fatah lists has been rejected by Hamas’s senior officials and some Fatah supporters due to the parties’ divergent political platforms.

The sources, who spoke to The Arab Weekly on condition of anonymity, indicated that the Istanbul understandings reached a specific formula about mechanisms for the organisation of elections and where votes could take place.

The two sides, according to the sources, agreed that elections will be held in occupied Jerusalem. If they are stalled, then they will have to rely on electronic voting.

The same sources indicated that Fatah has reached a consensus on the matter, and that the ball is now in Hamas’s court. Hamas is required to submit its written approval before elections can be organised.

In his leaked statements, Arouri talked about an agreement to form joint lists between the two political rivals, considering that elections are not a solution to the Palestinian crisis, but rather a way to move towards achieving this goal.

Arouri said that there is a lack of trust in Fatah’s leadership because of “past practices” and fears among Islamists that security coordination between the PA and Israel will resume, leading to restrictions on Hamas members, especially in the West Bank.

Arouri pointed out that the Islamist movement views the issue of internal reconciliation as critical in light of changing dynamics, especially with foreign talk about searching for an alternative to the current Palestinian Authority, which would have implications for Hamas.

A spokesman for the Democratic Reform Movement in Fatah, Imad Mohsen, said there are expectations that a preliminary agreement will be reached between the two rivals to form a government of national unity and create a full partnership during and after the election period.

The two rivals, according to Mohsen, could lead a renewed initiative to confront Israeli occupation through popular resistance.

He told The Arab Weekly that there is no disagreement between Palestinians over the general content of the understandings, but rather their details and the agendas each side will pursue.

Mohsen explained that these agendas will naturally serve the two forces that have been sponsoring the consensus — Turkey and Qatar – meaning that rapprochement is aimed at achieving political plans unrelated to the Palestinian cause.

He expected the two parties to stall in their path to restore relations, especially in the absence of Egypt as a mediator. Cairo is viewed as the only party capable of gathering all Palestinian factions together, and its experience in previous negotiations makes it qualified to play a mediating role right now.