x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Hamas-Fatah deal is realpolitik with real consequences

Changes in Egypt and the situation in Syria have weakened both Fatah and Hamas, which partly explains why these two parties appear increasingly willing to work together.

The agreement signed in Doha on Monday stipulates that President Mahmoud Abbas will lead an interim government, as well as keep his duties as head of the Palestinian Authority, in preparation for elections for the legislative council and for the presidency.

Sponsored by Qatar's emir Sheikh Hamad Al Thani, the agreement was produced in large part because of regional and global developments. But it is better understood in terms of how these outside forces have affected internal changes in Palestinian politics.

The Arab revolutions have had a sweeping effect on the Palestinian dynamics. Changes in Egypt and the situation in Syria have weakened both Fatah and Hamas, as traditional supporters of both parties have fallen or been threatened in Cairo or Damascus respectively.

Both political parties are also anxious about whether the winds of the Arab revolutions will blow through their own power bases within the Palestinian community. Palestinians are tired, on the one hand, of the endless negotiations with Israel that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority have pursued, although recently with some hesitation.

These talks have led to nothing besides Israel buying time and continuing its policies to grab land and create the "facts on the ground". This stalling tactic has allowed Israel to manipulate international public opinion to sell the "Israel brand", or the myth that this government is interested in peace.

And finally, these negotiations have only helped to pacify the Palestinian public and create further cynicism and divisions.

Another aspect of the reconciliation is that both Khaled Meshaal, Hamas's political leader, and Mr Abbas can use it to solidify their positions within their own political parties, considering the strong public support for Palestinian political unity. Who will dare to challenge them if they are working towards this very public demand?

There are new actors who are starting to play a prominent role as well. Over the past year, Qatar has been active in the politics of the region, serving as a friend of Egypt, especially with the Muslim Brotherhood emerging as a leading force, and further isolating the Syrian regime, which Qatar openly criticises. These moves are not only in line with its national interests, but also present Qatar as a regional power that has helped to mend the Palestinians' internal political divisions.

The old world order is weakening, with the United States failing in Iraq and Afghanistan, challenged by Iran and facing economic problems that could get worse with the crisis in Europe. In that context, Qatar has prevailed in forging unity among Palestinians despite the objections of the Israelis and their patrons in Washington.

For Israel and the West, as stated by Israeli, European and American officials, any Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas is not acceptable because Hamas remains a "terrorist" organisation, or at least an organisation that does not recognise "Israel's right to exist". Of course, it could be argued that the Israeli government includes parties and leaders who do not recognise the Palestinian people's "right to exist".

That point of view is evident in public statements advocating the forced removal of Palestinians who remain within the Israeli state borders created in 1948.

The United States now seems to be living with the idea that Islamist parties are taking leading positions in the Arab world after the revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. But to compromise in the Palestinian case and to accept Hamas as a political force is a different issue. Western relations with political Islam face their greatest test in the case of Palestinians because the movement is chiefly mobilised around resistance to Israel.

In Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, and even possibly Syria in the near future, political Islam will be at least tolerated by Europe and the United States as an alternative to the dictatorships. Political parties across the Arab world include sentiments responding to western domination, but in the Palestinian case, political Islam is all about challenging Israel and ending its occupation of Palestinian territories.

Islamic political parties continue to present themselves at the "loyal" resistance. Take out the Israeli occupation, and these parties in occupied Palestine will lose their major mobilising force. Conflict with Israel and its US patrons is at the foundation of their existence.

Politics is always about manoeuvring to improve one's position, which is true for Hamas, Fatah and Qatar. But there is an intangible element that cannot be so easily described.

In the political process of haggling between the major powers of political parties, leaders and even countries, the sheer force of human energy is something that cannot be quantified. This force was present in the Egyptian revolution and subsequent events.

Human dignity is ultimately what drives history, and this is something we cannot measure or predict. We will see what transpires because of this agreement, but it is the force of the Palestinian people that will drive real change.


Magid Shihade is an assistant professor of International Studies at Birzeit University in the West Bank