x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Palestinian ties must strengthen after ceasefire

Whenever this latest round of killing stops, Fatah and Hamas must demonstrate that Palestinians are stronger united than divided.

As talks of a ceasefire progressed yesterday, two competing images of Palestinian leadership emerged. On one side was Hamas's leader, Ismail Haniyeh, visiting injured civilians in hospital. On the other, a grinning Mahmoud Abbas, grasping hands with Hillary Clinton, even as the US unconditionally supports the very country that is killing Palestinians in Gaza.

When, finally, a ceasefire is reached, what comes next for the Palestinians? The assault on Gaza over the past week has focused discussion on relations between Israel and the Gaza Strip, but Gaza is only part of the territory on which Palestinians will build a future state. The West Bank, run by Fatah, comprises the majority of the territory, and for years Fatah and Hamas have been at loggerheads.

Israel's assault has ended that. This week, following pro-Hamas demonstrations in the West Bank, Fatah leaders announced that they had ended their political divisions and would unite to show solidarity over Gaza. Turning those pledges into action must be made a post-war priority.

If Israel hoped to use this opportunity to destroy Hamas - or, to quote the words of Israel's interior minister, "send Gaza back to the Middle Ages" - it has spectacularly backfired. Hamas's rockets are reaching deeper into Israel, within striking distance of Tel Aviv. And not only has Hamas's deterrence power increased, so has the perception of its effectiveness as a "resistance" force among Palestinians.

It has also shown that Hamas has friends internationally - witness the procession of politicians appearing in the Strip, even as the bombs fall - and has increased support among Egyptians and Arabs for the Rafah crossing with Egypt to be permanently opened. It may even leave Hamas empowered, depending on the terms of any eventual ceasefire.

The loser in all of this, politically, is Fatah, to which Israel pays lip service as the "moderate" counterweight to Hamas. Although Hamas has governed the Gaza Strip since 2006, it had been losing support among ordinary Palestinians there, as the siege continued to bite and Hamas seemed unable to resolve problems of daily life. That has most probably changed.

What this means for Palestinian unity, and for the continuing bid for statehood, is still unclear. A resolution is expected to be put to the UN later this month. But this will be little more than a token gesture without a renewed push to repair the Palestinian split. Whenever this latest round of killing stops, Fatah and Hamas must demonstrate that Palestinians are stronger united than divided.