Fatah and Hamas join forces. Ready to talk?
The Palestinians appear to have taken an important step toward healing the division between their two principal political movements, Fatah and Hamas.
After two days of meetings in Cairo — presumably brokered by the Egyptians, who continue to have an important role to play in the Israeli-Palestinian issue — leaders of Fatah and Hamas announced on Thursday a restored level of cooperation and unity between the two Palestinian organizations. They have been at formal odds with each other since 2007, when Hamas won Palestinian legislative elections and, when Fatah then did not permit Hamas to assume rule of Gaza and the West Bank under the so-called Palestinian Authority, Hamas kicked Fatah out of Gaza, shattering intra-Palestinian cooperation.
Since then, in effect, Fatah under PA president Mahmoud Abbas has ruled in the West Bank, and Hamas has run the show in Gaza. The West Bank is increasingly riddled by Israeli settlers, now numbering more than half a million, and settlements. Gaza is, in effect, a cage for some 2 million of the world’s 12 million Palestinians, surrounded by the Israelis. Gaza, increasingly a humanitarian disaster, has electricity two to four hours per day and sky-high unemployment.
The divisions among the Palestinians have given the Israelis the logical argument for not negotiating with them meaningfully — that the Palestinians are deeply divided among themselves, and thus are unable to present a coherent position on the other side of the table in talks. It is also the case that Mr. Abbas, now 82 and in weak health, is unpopular among the Palestinians. He completed his elected term as PA president in 2009 and has stayed on by default. He would have difficulty maintaining that he speaks for the Palestinians in negotiations.
The Cairo unity talks produced a statement of agreed-upon Palestinian objectives, which include an end to Israeli occupation and the creation of an independent, sovereign state with Jerusalem as its capital. Legislative, presidential and national council elections are pledged within one year. An interim Fatah-Hamas government would be created prior to the elections. Three thousand PA police would be deployed to Gaza subsequent to the signature of the accord, including to staff the Gaza-Egyptian border post, Gaza’s only outlet.
Let’s see. Such reconciliations have been promised before, only to fall apart. The Palestinians also need new leadership in place of Mr. Abbas, through elections or by other means. More contemporary possible leaders include PA prime minister Rami Hamdallah, who is part of Fatah; Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh; and the popular Marwan Baghouti, held in an Israeli prison.
The world and Israel as well as the Palestinians continue to have a stake in a reasonable, two-state resolution of the now 69-year-old problem in the former Palestine. For the Israelis, it is the long-term preservation of a democratic Jewish state. For the Palestinians, it is self-government for 12 million people. For the world, it is an important element in a durable peace in the Middle East.