What Are the Potential Outcomes of Hamas and Fatah’s Reconciliation?

Palestinian Reconciliation
By Tallha Abdulrazaq

The Egyptian intelligence-brokered reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah have apparently finally borne fruit. On 27 April, Egyptian intelligence announced that the two Palestinian rivals have finally agreed on forming an interim government, and have made such progress that they will now fix a date for a general election. In addition, it appears that both parties have agreed to release their respective prisoners with Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior political figure in Hamas, confirming that Hamas will release all who have a non-criminal background; a clear hint at political prisoners.

While this relatively under-wraps effort certainly surprised some and appalled others, namely Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other Israeli political figures, it also raises a suggestion that Hamas might be on the verge of ending its isolation and perhaps scoring a political success, but this time in a domestic move rather than an international one. As Fatah and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) are recognised by many international governments, Hamas would be making a move that would put many in the international community who claim to respect Palestinian self-determination in a difficult position.

Reports suggest that, as part of the reconciliation between the two Palestinian factions, the PLO will be restructured in order to allow Hamas’ admission into the organisation. This would place Hamas in a political forum internationally recognised by organisations such as the Arab League and even the UN. Although some might correctly argue that the PLO is dominated by Fatah and has not been very useful in recent memory, that could all change if Hamas use their political influence to exert more control over the PLO and therefore by default have a voice at the UN General Assembly. Essentially, this would compel obstinate members of the international community to either engage in dialogue with Hamas, find a way to have them removed from the PLO, or stop recognising the legitimacy of the PLO altogether.

In either case, Hamas can gain significantly. If the international community begins to have dialogue with Hamas, it would likely begin to weaken the Israeli siege on Gaza in addition to effects that are already arising from the political upheaval in Egypt. If attempts are made to have Hamas ousted from the PLO, Hamas would then simply call foul to the Palestinian people which would probably further rally support for them as in the case of the botched US-Israeli-Fatah coup in Gaza. If the PLO as a whole is blackballed by the international community, then that could have the effect of finally sealing the deal for the Palestinians, forcing them to unite, as well as completely alienating the Arab world apart from a few Arab state leaders who may utter impotent condemnations at best, or else stay silent as usual.

All of the above would certainly appear to be merely for the empowerment of Hamas, and so it raises the question; why did Fatah agree to reconciliation? A possible suggestion is that Fatah has had its legitimacy amongst its own people put in a dangerous position. There are even disillusioned groups who splintered off of the mainstream Fatah party and decided to campaign for a return to the “original” Fatah. Moreover, Fatah was trounced in the last real election, had their security forces made to look like rank amateurs by Hamas fighters, and their corruption and collusion with Israel was revealed to the Palestinians and the world via the release of the Palestine Papers. This, plus the relatively withdrawn attitude of the US, has perhaps compelled Fatah to go it alone and try to restore some of their credibility. Although Hamas has faced its own popularity issues in Gaza, Fatah have a lot more legwork to do in the hopefully free, fair and transparent upcoming elections. In Fatah’s case, it is better for them to go all in now, than to wait a slow death as more and more Palestinians become disillusioned with their leadership.

Israeli government statements regarding this reconciliation deal have been almost typical. Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman spouted his usual and limited right-wing “crossing a red line” vocabulary, but the response from Netanyahu was, inevitably and not surprisingly, more intriguing. Netanyahu explicitly said that Fatah could either have peace with Israel or peace with Hamas, and they cannot have both. As peace with Israel has not really materialised or even come close to manifesting itself, it is perhaps hopeful to believe that Fatah have learnt their lesson from their embarrassment at having been exposed in past deals involving Israel, and will instead embrace and unite with their other Palestinian brothers. Although Fatah have issued a statement suggesting that they will choose their fellow Palestinians over Israel, one should be careful in assuming too much from their statements. After all, agreements and deals have been hashed out with Hamas before, only to lead to a larger schism between the two.

Israeli policy in the region appears to be weakening. While it is not odd to see Egyptian intelligence involved in mediating talks between Palestinian factions, the timing of this announcement comes not long after the ousting of former Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, a long time supporter of Israel, the defunct peace process, and even the siege on Gaza. Egypt is now a country that is almost an unknown variable in the Israeli equation; whereas before they could rely on Egyptian collusion, they now have to be wary of the state with a predominantly Muslim population who have anti-Israeli occupation sentiments. Indeed, a recent report by Al Jazeera suggests that most Egyptians are not in favour of keeping the peace treaty with Israel. Could this Egyptian-brokered deal be a portent of a significant cooling of relations between Egypt and Israel, and perhaps an end to the isolation of Hamas controlled Gaza? This remains to be seen, but one can be assured that it is playing on Israeli officials’ minds for certain.


Tallha Abdulrazaq was born and raised in the UK to Iraqi parents of mixed Arab and Kurdish descent. He is currently based in London completing his final year in the Department of War Studies, King's College London, and also blogs at War-Journal.


3 May 2011