Hamas’s thirst for power can never be quenched.
On Wednesday, Hamas and Fatah reached a reconciliation agreement that includes the formation of a unity government that will last until general elections are held within one year. The groups claimed that all areas of disagreement had been settled, including with security arrangements. It is being hailed as an achievement, but it ends the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and is bound to ultimately fail.
The Arab Spring motivated Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip to pressure their governments to come together. In mid-March, thousands of Palestinians protested in favor of reconciliation in both Palestinian Territories. In Gaza, dozens of protesters went further and demanded the release of political prisoners and greater freedoms and were forcibly dispersed and threatened with arrest.
Each side tried to deflect the blame onto the other. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called for presidential and legislative elections in September on the condition that Gaza was included. Hamas announced a minor shakeup of its government and presented an offer for a unity government that was rejected. Now, both sides have caved to domestic opinion and have agreed to create a joint transitional government.
The Israeli government is understandably concerned. This agreement means that the Palestinian Authority will no longer act as an enemy of Hamas. The terrorist group will have increased influence over the West Bank and its security services, ending previous undisclosed cooperation between Fatah and Israel. Hamas’ war against Israel will never give up its war against Israel and Fatah will be forced to join in or abandon the unity government. A spokesman for Hamas says that the agreement stipulates that prisoners without a criminal background will be released. It is unclear what this means, but it should be assumed that those involved in acts of terrorism will soon be freed.
Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “The Palestinian Authority must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. There is no possibility for peace with both.” He’s right. Last year, a Hamas official unequivocally stated that any agreement to have an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders would only be a first phase towards the ultimate destruction of Israel. For Hamas, the “peace process” is a means to an end.
Fatah isn’t the best peace partner, either. President Abbas has said that an independent Palestinian state would not have a single Jew living it, which makes peace impossible. Last year, Abbas called the family of Abu Daoud, the mastermind of the 1972 massacre of Israeli athletes in Munich, to offer his condolences after his death. The Fatah Revolutionary Council also celebrated him as a hero. However, Fatah is definitely preferred over Hamas by Israel.
A document released by WikiLeaks dated June 13, 2007 shows that the Israeli Security Agency said it has “established a very good working relationship” with the Palestinian Authority’s security services. The agency’s chief, Yuval Diskin, is reported as saying that they “share with ISA almost all the intelligence that it collects” and that Fatah leaders even asked Israel to attack Hamas in Gaza. “This is a new development. We have never seen this before. They are desperate,” he said.
As recently as last month, Abbas accused Hamas of being an Iranian and Syrian proxy. The Palestinian Authority condemned Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2009 but blamed the “massacre” of Palestinians on Hamas. It said that Hamas was wrong to not renew the ceasefire and that it was done on orders from Tehran. The Israelis appear to have given the Palestinian Authority advance notice of the operation as they sought to have Fatah or Egypt govern Gaza after it was finished but failed to persuade either. Hamas has repeatedly accused Fatah of sharing intelligence on its operations with Israel.
Following the Turkish flotilla incident, the Palestinian Authority forbade Hamas from staging protests in the West Bank. In September, the Palestinian Authority arrested 150 members of Hamas following shootings of Israeli civilians, saying the attacks “can’t be regarded as an act of resistance” and were designed to sabotage peace talks. This enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend mentality that benefited Israel will no longer exist as Hamas and Fatah begin holding hands.
Since the West Bank and the Gaza Strip began being governed separately, 4,000 members of Hamas have been arrested in the West Bank and thousands of Fatah supporters have been imprisoned in Gaza. Each side tortured each other’s supporters, though Fatah said it stopped doing so in October 2010 and jailed, fired or demoted 43 prison officers for abuses. In August 2010, there were reports about the increasing amount of abuse each side was exercising toward the other. This past will not be forgotten and it is difficult to see a future where the two permanently settle their differences.
The antagonism will reignite as the election campaigns heat up, though domestic pressure may prevent a war or complete break. At this point, it is quite possible that Hamas will lose the next elections. The terrorist group has seen its popularity decline in Gaza and is actually more well-liked in the West Bank, where the citizens have not been exposed to Hamas governance. About 56 percent of Gazans have a negative view of Hamas, with 28 having a positive view. In the West Bank, 53 percent give the terrorist group a negative rating but its support is larger than in Gaza with 40 percent.
Remarkably, 46 percent of Gazans blame Hamas and Israel equally for their troubles. President Abbas has a 63 percent approval rating in Gaza and Prime Minister Fayyad is at 65 percent. When it comes to Iran, 49 percent of people in the Gaza Strip have a negative attitude as do 58 percent of those in the West Bank. Tying Hamas to Iran looks to be a smart political strategy for Fatah. This, of course, assumes elections will even be held and if they are, that they will be free and both sides will respect the results.
The reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is bad news for Israel but it is unlikely to last. Hamas will never give up its goal of creating a Sharia-based state that will destroy Israel. Fatah will have to participate or become its enemy again. Hamas will not be a better peace partner for Fatah than it has been for Israel.