Hamas and Fatah: A match made in hell
What will it take to demonstrate to Western purse-holders that “reconciliation” is a match made in hell, not heaven, for all concerned?
A new Palestinian unity government has been sworn in, in Ramallah, comprising ministers from both Fatah and Hamas. Fatah says the new government will recognise Israel and foreswear violence; Hamas says its military forces will remain intact and they will never recognise Israel’s right to exist.
Is this a match made in heaven, or a mismatch made in hell?
The news website AL Monitor recently published a revealing interview with the leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, Ramadan Abdullah Shalah, in which he was surprisingly candid about some of the realities behind the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation attempt.
Shalah started his interview with a caution not to expect too much from this latest reconciliation, claiming that “the many obstacles and complexities” between the two factions were not resolved, only circumvented in order to enable an agreement to be announced.
Further, Shalah believes that the reconciliation is only taking place now because of desperation on both sides. Hamas is suffering a crisis of government in Gaza and Fatah is facing “a crisis of negotiations and the lack of horizons regarding a settlement [with Israel]”
If the head of a terrorist group with firsthand knowledge of the workings of the Palestinian leadership expresses such sentiments, what hope does the new “reconciliation government” have? Will it survive the planned elections next year? Will the elections even take place?
Since the violent takeover of Gaza by Hamas in 2007, both factions have consolidated power in their respective zones of influence, but in diametrically opposite ways that make any long-term reconciliation and joint government impossible.
From Ramallah, Abbas’s Fatah faction has (in view of the negative rhetoric flying around) upheld a remarkable degree of security co-operation between its US-trained paramilitary police and the Israeli Defence Force. This co-operation has without a doubt kept the lid on terrorists in the West Bank who would have instigated a third violent intifada if they had been given enough leeway.
In Gaza, however, Hamas has taken an opposing mindset. It has allowed rogue groups to attack Israel unpunished and it has built a government based on an agenda that promotes terrorism and the eventual destruction of Israel whilst making alliances with Middle Eastern States instead of the Western ones that Fatah is so reliant on for its finances.
Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas heads the new joint government, avowedly a leadership of technocrats with no political affiliation. However, the new Prime Minister over the seventeen-man government is Rami Hamdallah, the incumbent Prime Minister of the Fatah-dominated PA and three of Hamas’s nominated delegates were refused leave by Israel to travel to the official launch.
One issue between the two – often glossed over – is the potentially irreconcilable difference in ideologies. Fatah, the major faction in the PLO, is essentially a political, nationalistic animal, largely secular in its approach to government and security.
Hamas, on the other hand, is an off-shoot of the terrorist Islamist entity the Muslim Brotherhood; its government is more firmly based on Sharia law and its rhetoric and political alliances are religious in nature. Furthermore, Hamas has declared that it is not prepared to compromise with "secularism" – in other words it is opposed to Fatah's political ethos and mindset.
Despite ideological differences, Hamas, and its arguably even more violent colleague, Islamic Jihad, have long held the ambition to be included in the PLO. Their motivation is not in doubt: they want to control the PLO and bend it to their own extremist agenda to liberate Palestine “from the river to the sea.”
Hamas and Islamic Jihad are outsiders in the wider structure of Palestinian leadership, which has enabled Mahmoud Abbas and his PA to dominate government in Ramallah. Hamas and Islamic Jihad want in on the game and the new joint government could be their back door to membership of the PLO.
Abbas, desperate not to lose the Western funding holding his regime up, has assured the Quartet that a unity government with Hamas will adhere to their three principles (recognising Israel, renouncing violence and respecting previous agreements).
Hamas, however, is saying just the opposite. One of its top leaders, Mahmoud Zahar, pledged that attacks against Israel will be exported to the West Bank in the event of a successful Palestinian reunion and the terror group has never recognised the international agreements signed by the PLO and PA.
It is not in Abbas’s interest to allow Hamas to increase the levels of violence, but in light of Hamas’s record of violence against Fatah he is treading on thin ice if he thinks he will be able to stop it happening again – this time on his own doorstep instead of in Gaza.
Hamas’s overall leader, Khaled Maschall, indicated on the day the new government was sworn in that the terror group will attempt the same kind of violent take-over in the West Bank that it carried out in Gaza in 2007, when it seized the reins of government and killed many Fatah officials and supporters.
Now it is relieved of the responsibilities of government, Hamas may well return to the violence of “resistance”, believing that its popularity rises with the level of violence against Israel. Just what will it take to demonstrate to Western purse-holders that the “reconciliation” is a match made in hell, not heaven, for all concerned?
Nick Gray is Director, Christian Middle East Watch, a British organisation dedicated to objective and factual discussion of Middle Eastern issues, especially of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Nick, who is a regular contributor to The Commentator, blogs at cmewonline.com
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