Two rival Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, need to reconcile if Palestine is to achieve a stable future, Middle East experts agree.
“The current conflict between Fatah and Hamas must be resolved if either party hopes to realise its goals,” Nathan Lean, editor-in-chief of Aslan Media, told Weekly Zaman. Fatah and Hamas have been locked in a bitter dispute for years, but finally agreed on Monday to end their infighting in a show of solidarity over the eight-day long Israeli shelling of the Gaza Strip that killed 161 Palestinians, including 71 civilians, and wounded almost a thousand.
Israel launched the offensive on 14 Nov., and it has been reported as the worst fighting since the Israeli invasion of Gaza four years ago by the international media.
Lean believes that the recent decision to unite was a hopeful sign. “Both parties have to agree that the issues they face (mainly with regard to Israel) are larger than their internal infighting. The conflict between Palestine and Israel will not be resolved as long as these parties are at odds,” Lean said.
The elusive agreement between Hamas and Fatah -- a pair viewed by Israel as a possible negotiating partner -- was announced following a meeting between senior representatives of both sides.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has also recently announced that the two Palestinian groups should unite for the future of Palestine. “As long as the Fatah-Hamas divide exists, the Palestinian issue will not be resolved,” said Erdoğan. “What is it that you cannot share? If you believe in yourselves, then bring out the ballot box and go to an election. Then surrender yourselves over to whoever wins the election in Palestine,” Erdoğan said.
According to Ahmad Jamil Azem, director of the Palestine and Arabic studies program at the West Bank-based Birzeit University, Hamas and Fatah reached an understanding a long time ago, but Hamas has rejected the reconciliation and new elections. “At the same time [Palestinian President Mahmoud] Abbas seems hesitant to advance reconciliation and transform it into a real, practical working plan as he calculates international reactions,” Azem told Weekly Zaman.
Agreeing with Erdoğan, Lean also said that the issue should be solved through the ballot box with democratic elections, and that the results should be respected.
The conflict that erupted between the two primary Palestinian parties resulted in the split of the Palestinian Authority into two polities, each seeing itself as the true representative of the Palestinian people -- the Fatah-ruled Palestinian National Authority and the Hamas-ruled Gaza government.
“How can a country whose major political factions are at war with each other demand recognition as a unified nation? Infighting only amplifies the extreme voices,” said Lean.
Regarding a unification decision between the two parties, Lean says, “We’ve seen this type of rhetoric before, but it will likely be these types of flash points, where Fatah and Hamas recognise that their common nationality and their common challenges supersede their bickering, that will prevent a deepening rift.”
A cease-fire between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers took hold last Thursday after eight days of conflict, although mutual suspicion raises doubts about how long the Egyptian-sponsored deal will last. If the cease-fire holds, Israel and Egypt will be clear beneficiaries. But Hamas, too, comes out a winner, having long been isolated by Washington’s Arab allies but now being embraced by much of the region.
Analysts argue that Hamas’ confrontation with Israel increased its popularity, while also deepening the rift with Fatah.
“Obviously Hamas’ defiance in the face of the Israeli attacks raised its position in the eyes of the Palestinian people,” Adnan Abu Amer, professor of political science at Ummah University in Gaza, said in remarks to Weekly Zaman.
According to experts, the recent visit of the Qatari emir to Gaza reinforced divisions between Hamas and Fatah because the emir’s visit legitimised the split among Palestinians at a time when the Palestinian Authority is seeking UN membership status.
Fatah furiously urged its supporters to boycott the emir’s visit. It alleged that the visit was undertaken to enhance Qatari influence in the region at the cost of Palestinian unity. “Looking for political power in the region at the expense of the Palestinian people and their rights and unity is unacceptable,” said a Fatah statement.
Observers say that Hamas has been an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has made major political gains in Egypt after the Arab Spring, and has been actively backed by Egypt, Qatar and Turkey.
“Egypt, Turkey and Qatar are supporting Hamas in its struggle against Israel. This support prevents the isolation of Hamas. Prior the Syrian crisis, Hamas’ list of regional friends was much shorter and mostly limited to Syria and Iran,” said Amer.
A delegation headed by Nabil al-Arabi, secretary general of the Arab League, 13 foreign Arab ministers and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu visited Gaza amid the Israeli attacks in a show of solidarity.
“Especially after Hamas was able to respond to the painful Israeli strikes, it received a great deal of support from the Arab world. This support increased the popularity of Hamas and it will make Hamas an important leader on the Palestinian question in the political scene, a situation that will be trouble for Israel and the West,” said Amer.
Hamas and Fatah began rounding up each other’s supporters when Hamas violently seized control of Gaza from Fatah in 2007. Abbas, concerned about losing the remainder of the land his party controlled in the West Bank, began cracking down on Hamas activists, institutions and funding.
However, Azem does not necessarily believe that the rift between the two factions is deepening.
“Fatah in the West Bank showed very bold support for Gaza and for the resistance there under Hamas leadership, but there is a crisis inside Fatah itself. Members and supporters of the movement feel that they lost the leading role in confronting Israel, and they feel they lack the leadership that can develop and lead a resistance program,” said Azem.
In brief, experts believe that the recent reconciliation decision offers hope for a better future of Palestine, and that this decision should be preserved.