The stakes in the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation drive
It may be too early to predict the success or failure of the agreement between Fatah and Hamas to engage in a new reconciliation process.
For a full decade, Hamas behaved as an alternative leadership for the Palestinians. Hamas leaders said they were more deserving of leadership than the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA), especially after winning the 2006 legislative elections.
Hamas’s ambitions grew with the rise to power of political Islam during the “Arab spring” in Egypt, Tunisia and Syria in 2011. That rise came to an end and Hamas found itself isolated.
The agreement between Hamas and Fatah resulted from pressure on both parties coming from several factors. Hamas was experiencing tremendous difficulty in administering the besieged Gaza Strip, especially as foreign funds dried up following the Qatari crisis and trade through the smugglers’ tunnels in Sinai stopped when they were destroyed.
The second factor has to do with the failure of political Islam. Islamist movements in the region were driven out of power either because they were rejected by international or regional powers or because they failed to win widespread, popular support.
The third factor lies in Hamas failing to offer the Palestinian population in Gaza a different or better vision of their role than the one offered by Fatah. Hamas could not delineate what it wanted the Gaza Strip to be. Was it going to be a base for liberating Palestine? Could it bear the burden of that task alone? How would it fight Israel?
The fourth factor comes from the fact that the Palestinian Authority under President Mahmoud Abbas reached a dead end in its negotiations for a two-state solution with Israel. The latter was aggressively pursuing its colonisation operations in the West Bank and Jerusalem and confiscating Palestinian land behind the separation wall. Negotiations stalled and Israel wants to impose occupation, economic dependence and the obligation to coordinate security matters with it as the new reality for Palestinians.
The fifth factor is Egypt’s role in the agreement. Cairo leveraged its weight and influence to get Fatah and Hamas to the negotiation table and sign the agreement.
It is obvious that Fatah and Hamas needed such an agreement but experience has shown that signing a document is not going to be enough. The agreement came under pressure and was not the result of choice by both parties.
Agreement aside, there are hanging issues to be decided. Perhaps the most important one is the issue of weapons in Gaza. The issue is not about opting for armed resistance or for negotiations. It is more complex than that.
In Gaza, weapons meant for resistance and weapons meant for keeping security are not distinguishable. So, the Palestinian Authority’s concerns about security forces in Gaza need to be addressed before proceeding with full reconciliation.
Second, there is the issue of the fate of the 40,000 employees and administrators appointed by Hamas after taking over the Gaza Strip. Related to this, there is the question of the new form of administration in Gaza. The Palestinian Authority will certainly want to oversee the management of all affairs in Gaza, including border crossings, but will Hamas acquiesce to that?
Hamas wants a larger share in the power structure of the PLO but it is not sure that Fatah will agree to that.
Finally, the issue of legislative and presidential elections in the West Bank and Gaza is pending.
The Palestinian political structures are ageing and losing their punch in defending the nationalistic interests of the Palestinian people. Fatah and Hamas have to do much more than agreeing on sharing power or they risk losing their legitimacy among the Palestinians.