Mahmoud Abbas, president of the PA and head of Fatah, and Ismail Haniyeh, head of the so-called “political“ wing of Hamas, were both recently invited to Algeria to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Algerian independence. The current President of Algeria, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, whose dreams of glory include being a peacemaker for feuding Palestinian factions, wanted to arrange a symbolic handshake between Abbas and Haniyeh. The two have been mortal enemies since 2007, when Hamas seized Gaza from Fatah, murdering 700 Fatah men and driving thousands more out of Gaza to seek refuge in the West Bank. Abbas and Haniyeh haven’t even laid eyes on each other since 2016. Tebboune welcomed both, took their hands in his, and made sure that they shook hands and smiled at one another for the photo op he had arranged. Christine Douglass-Williams offered a brief report here yesterday, and a full analysis of the significance of that forced-handshake-and-smiles is here: “‘Zero-Sum Game’: PA Leader Abbas and Hamas Chief Haniyeh Come Together in Rare Meeting in Algeria,” by Sharon Wrobel, Algemeiner, July 6, 2022:
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh met on Tuesday for the first time in six years, reportedly at the request of Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.
The leaders of Hamas and the Fatah Party were taking part in celebrations in Algeria marking the country’s 60th independence anniversary. In photos circulated on Algerian and Palestinian media outlets, the two rivals were seen shaking hands under Tebboune’s gaze. The two leaders last met face-to-face in Doha, Qatar in 2016.
“This can be viewed as a historic event as the last time the two bitter adversaries met was six years ago,” Kobi Michael, a senior research fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. “At the same time, the meeting was forced on Abbas and Haniyeh by Tebboune under the title of ‘reconciliation efforts,’ to position Algeria vis-à-vis the US, Europe, and Africa as someone who can contribute to talks between the sides.”
Algeria launched an initiative a few months ago to mediate between Palestinian factions and Tuesday’s meeting was likely a result of those efforts, according to Joe Truzman, an analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD).
Months of effort, all to produce a single forced handshake and a brief forced smile for the cameras. Aside from President Tebboune, who staged the event, it was Haniyeh who clearly came out ahead simply by appearing to be not the louche leader of a terror group that is banned in many countries, including several Arab ones, but fully the equal of the President of the PA, Mahmoud Abbas, who for nearly two decades has been the face of the Palestinians, welcomed in the capitals of the West.
“While it was somewhat surprising seeing Haniyeh and Abbas together, it’s unlikely anything significant came out of their meeting,” Truzman told The Algemeiner. “There are many obstacles to overcome before legitimate reconciliation can be considered between Fatah and Hamas.”…
No reconciliation will come of this staged handshake-and-smile. Mahmoud Abbas will return to Ramallah, where it will finally dawn on him that he made a grievous political error by allowing Ismail Haniyeh to be put on the same footing as himself, the master of the Mukata.
There won’t be a true reconciliation; too much blood has been spilled on both sides, too much vitriol and hatred been expressed. It’s fanciful to imagine that either side, or either despot, could ever forgive or forget, as their fighters have been killing each other for fifteen years. Instead, Haniyeh will use this photograph as proof of the group’s legitimacy as a political actor on the world stage.
“For Hamas this is a great achievement to be put on an equal level with Fatah, and will dramatically strengthen its standing, while for Fatah and Abbas it is a disaster, and likely to weaken its position,” Michael commented. “The idea that Hamas and Fatah, two camps that are fighting each other and belong to opposite sides, can reconcile is detached from reality.”
In view of recent polls, which indicate that around 80 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank want Abbas to resign from the presidential post he has held since 2005, Michael said that the prospect of reconciliation looks very slim. A poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip published at the end of June showed that support shifted to Hamas ahead of Fatah, the PLO’s main nationalist faction. The survey, conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), revealed that 33 percent of Palestinians believe that Hamas should be leading the Palestinian struggle, with only 23 percent opting for Fatah under Abbas.
“There is no reason for Hamas to reconcile,” remarked Michael, a former deputy director general and head of the Palestinian desk at Israel’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs. “This is a zero-sum game.”
Hamas has recently pulled way ahead of Fatah in its support among the Palestinians, both in Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians are tired of Mahmoud Abbas, who is entering the 18th year of his four-year term as President. They are angry with his colossal corruption; he’s managed with his sons Tarek and Yasser to amass a family fortune of $400 million. They are furious that, having announced in early 2021 that he would finally hold elections, cancelled them just a few months later once he realized he would lose badly to any candidate – Marwan Barghouti, Mohammed Dahlan, Ismail Haniyeh – who ran against him. Finally, the Palestinians are enraged at how Abbas had his goons silence his most trenchant critic on social media, Nizar Banat, by beating him to death. 80% of the Palestinians in the West Bank want Abbas to resign: that’s a colossal vote of no confidence. And 33% of the Palestinians want Hamas to lead their “national struggle”; only 23% want Abbas and Fatah. The remaining 44% are divided, giving their support to other, smaller factions, such as the PFLP and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. But the two main takeaways are these: only 20% of Palestinians are willing to have Abbas stay on as President, and many of those, presumably, are willing to tolerate him only because they know that Abbas is 87 and in poor health, so they won’t have long to wait until he leaves the stage.
This Shakanza (“handshake” in Italo-American) in Algeria will not lead to peace between Fatah and Hamas. Instead, for Hamas — as Israeli political analyst Kobi Michael maintains – this is “a great achievement for Hamas, which has been put on an equal level with Fatah, and will dramatically strengthen its standing, while for Fatah and Abbas it is a disaster, and likely to weaken its position.”
Abbas could have stayed home, sending his best wishes to his Algerian brothers-in-arms, and pleading – truthfully, for once – ill health.