The Hamas-Fatah accord: where will it lead?

A renewed Hamas-Fatah agreement spells danger for the peace process and for Fatah as a party.

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Hamas' end game: destruction of Israel
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Fabio Rafael Fiallo
On 5 May 2011 12:08

After four years of internecine fighting, retaliatory imprisonments and cross assassinations, the two leading factions of the Palestinian movement, Fatah and Hamas, have entered into an Egypt-brokered deal on the formation of an interim unitary government charged with preparing elections within twelve months in the West Bank and the Gaza strip.

As soon as the power-sharing agreement between Fatah and Hamas was known, a consensus emerged that the deal, by showing a united stance of otherwise rival factions, would enhance the chances of success of the diplomatic initiative launched by Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), aimed at securing recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN General Assembly in September.

That explanation doesn’t stand the test of reality. In order to have legal weight, recognition by the UN needs to pass two hurdles: be approved by a two-third majority of UN member states and avoid the veto of any of the permanent members of the Security Council. With or without the Fatah-Hamas accord, the majority vote in favour of the PA initiative can practically be taken for granted: 118 out of the 192 states members of the UN already recognize Palestine as a state and, therefore, only ten more votes are required for the initiative to succeed – not an impossible task.

The main obstacle relates to the second requirement, i.e. to avoid a veto; and for this, the Palestinian power-sharing deal does more harm than good since the United States has repeatedly asserted that Hamas cannot be considered as an acceptable player unless it renounces to terrorism and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.

The explanation in question, moreover, conveys the false impression that the main beneficiary of the deal is the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, and hence Fatah itself. A lucid look at the deal proves exactly the opposite.

For starters, Fatah’s interest in the accord lies essentially in the elections announced to be held within one year. Unlike the elections of 2006, which Hamas won, Fatah may reasonably expect to defeat Hamas this time and, thereby, recapture the control of Gaza lost in 2007. Hamas is aware of the erosion of its popularity, which explains why it had until now forcefully rejected Gazans’ calls for new elections.

If Hamas has accepted to take part in the elections provided for in the agreement, it is because that organization has obtained two major concessions in return: the opening of Egypt’s border with Gaza and the possibility for Hamas’ militants to move across the West Bank without being chased or imprisoned by Fatah’s forces.

The opening of the Egypt border will enable Hamas both to bring weaponry into Gaza through that border and to use Egypt as a sanctuary where its militants can eventually take refuge, and escape Israeli reprisals, whenever Hamas decides to launch attacks against Israel. The possibility of moving freely in the West Bank, in turn, will enable Hamas to use from time to time, albeit it discreetly, the West Bank as a platform for terrorist operations against Israel.

What makes the deal rickety and bound to end in a blind alley is the fact that the timing of benefits differs as between Fatah and Hamas. To materialize its expected benefits – i.e. recapture the control of Gaza – Fatah will need to wait till elections are held. Meanwhile, Hamas will have already cashed in its dividends since the opening of the Egypt border and Hamas’ newly found mobility across the West Bank are to be implemented in a matter of days. But then, with its dividends in the pocket, Hamas will feel tempted to circumvent or ignore its commitment to allow elections in the territory under its control – Gaza.

To thwart the electoral process, Hamas has a well-known joker to play: to intensify its attacks against Israel so as to provoke a military response from the Jewish state. Hamas will then have a pretext to argue that, much to its regret, elections cannot be held because of the conditions created by the new “Israeli aggression”. That pretext will allow Hamas to keep its grip over the Gaza strip (perhaps at the expense of its mobility in the West Bank).

There won’t be much that could be done against that: If Fatah has as yet not been able to dislodge Hamas from Gaza, why would the same Fatah, or a fragile interim government for that matter, be in a stronger position to do it in the future? To save the appearances and avoid a new round of infighting, the interim government may be obliged to postpone elections or to prearrange the elections results so as to permit the existing allocation of zones of influence between Fatah and Hamas to continue to exist.

Hamas will draw two supplementary benefits from its provoking Israel and from Israel’s reprisal. One, it will induce Egypt to harden its stance, or at least its rhetoric, vis-à-vis Israel – as did Turkey after the Hamas-orchestrated flotilla incident on mid-2010. Two, it will show that it is Hamas, and not Fatah, that calls the tune in Palestinian politics.

One could thus wonder whether Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement, who are likely to be on the loser’s side, assessed carefully, and fully, the implications of the power-sharing agreement signed in Cairo on May the 3rd.

Fabio Rafael Fiallo is a writer and a retired UN official. His latest publication, “Ternes Eclats” (“Dimmed Lights”), Paris, presents a critique of multilateral diplomacy, including of the anti-Israel bias that prevails in a number of international forums

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