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December 27, 2011
In the latest attempt aimed at bridging the differences between Fatah and Hamas (as well as other Palestinian factions), the leaders of the respective organizations met in Cairo under the auspices of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. The meeting is the latest in a series of summits and agreements, each received with a mixture of anticipation and disbelief. For the Palestinians, given the poor record of such meetings, the reaction is more muted. In Israel, the debate is more heated and disagreements about how to respond to such rapprochements are laid bare across editorials and op-ed pages.
Asharq Alawsat’s Salah Juma reports on an interview with the Hamas chief Khaled Meshal, who “called on Palestinian factions, particularly the Hamas and Fatah movements, to have the courage to criticize themselves and bear the responsibility for the mistakes they have made in the past....The Hamas chief also cited the 2005 Cairo Agreement, the 2006 National Accord, the [Hamas - Fatah] Mecca Agreement, and the 4 May 2011 [Hamas - Fatah Unity] Agreement in Cairo as including joint programs that Palestinian factions can work together on....As for the PLO meeting headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo, Khaled Meshal stressed ‘for the first time since 2005 the issue of the PLO is on the table…and for the first time Hamas is taking part in PLO meetings…and we agreed to activate this and rebuild it via the election of a new national council and executive committee.’”
National unity is certainly in most Palestinians’ minds, but as Ramzy Baroud cautions in his Maan News article, “A paradigm shift is in fact underway in several Arab countries, especially those immediately adjacent to Palestine and Israel….In reality, national unity is not a mere strategic decision, necessitated by rapidly changing political reality. It requires a fundamental shift from old strategies and the shedding of old beliefs....It requires a generation of leaders with clean slates, revolutionary in their thinking, motivated by the single belief that no freedom can be achieved without true national unity, under a single flag. The allegiance must not lie with any particular faction, but to Palestine itself, and the only unifying slogan should be ‘Freedom.’”
Similary, MIFTAH’s Joharah Baker asserts: “Everyone is hoping for Palestinian unity. The years-long political split between Hamas and Fatah has been devastating at more than one level but mostly at the level of Palestinian cohesiveness and lack of one united voice....And the people, perhaps beyond their better judgment, have raised their hopes that the Palestinians are finally coming together.” But Baker then cautions: “We all want national unity, no doubt. But we also want a Palestine where our individual and collective liberties are not trounced on by a totalitarian regime that wants complete control of its populace. Shutting down a media conference or a conference on women’s labor rights in Gaza will not win Hamas votes — at least not from a large sector of our society. Embracing national unity and the principles upon which the Palestinian revolution were founded — including political and religious freedoms — undoubtedly will. “
In Israel, the Jerusalem Post editorial reacts negatively to the news of possible further cooperation between Hamas and Fatah: “Willingness on the part of Hamas, and the even more radical Islamic Jihad, to join the Palestinian Liberation Organization — an organizational framework currently dominated by the “moderate” Fatah — has sparked heated debate. Optimists argue the move will have a moderating effect on the terrorist organizations....In contrast, the pessimists argue that if allowed to join, Hamas will either take control of the PLO or force Fatah to accept its violent radicalism....Unfortunately, there is ample evidence to support the pessimistic view....It is abundantly clear that neither Hamas nor the even more radical Islamic Jihad will undergo a process of moderation as a result of being incorporated in the PLO. It is much more likely that the changes the PLO underwent to shed its terrorist organization status and garner international recognition will be rolled back by Hamas.”
Others agree with this pessimistic account, warning, as Arutz Sheva’s Yonatan Silverman does, that if PA President Mahmoud Abbas “embraces Hamas, he is walking away from any chance at peace. The PA is essentially hoisting itself on its own petard. And this is the fate of those whose outlook is clouded by hubris....The most recent example of this hubris is the objective of Mahmoud Abbas to include the Islamic terror gang Hamas in the ranks of the Palestinian Authority....Bilateral negotiations for a political settlement with Israel is the raison d’etre of the Oslo Accords that created the PA. But now that the PA seeks to integrate Hamas in its ranks it is swallowing a poison pill. The PA move for UN recognition is just an excuse for stabbing Israel in the back and will achieve nothing.”
However, not everyone is convinced that Palestinian unity spells trouble for Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations. Raphael Mimoun suggests in an op-ed on Yedioth Ahronoth, “Israel should consider new strategy towards increasingly pragmatic Hamas movement…. [D]ifficult as it may be, one must always try to leave emotions aside, to forget ideology and personal convictions and try to focus on reality, reassess new situations rationally, and move forward....if one looks at Hamas’ actions over the past months — and not their words — a clear change is noticeable....arguing that today’s Hamas is the same as it was 15, 10 or even five years ago would be equally foolish. And if a group as extreme as Hamas is ready to compromise on the ideology it was founded on, maybe it is worth reconsidering our strategy towards the group....Instead of trying to discourage Palestinian unity, Israel should welcome it and shape it to fit its interests. In Israel’s discourse, ‘by embracing Hamas, Abbas is walking away from peace’ should become ‘by embracing Abbas, Hamas must walk away from violence.’”
The National’s editorial couldn’t agree more, believing the current negotiation between Fatah and Hamas offers “[a]n opportunity as Hamas comes in from the cold…. As the winds of change sweep the Middle East after a momentous year, Hamas seems determined not to be left behind. The Islamist party is reducing its presence in Damascus, home to its headquarters for 10 years....For a group that has long depended on Syria and Iran's patronage, this move reflects a fundamental change in regional alliances....This shift also coincides with the announcement on Thursday by Khaled Meshaal, the group's political leader, that Hamas was joining efforts to hold new elections for the Palestine Liberation Organization. That is one of the most significant steps towards reconciliation since the Battle of Gaza in 2007.... For years, real reconciliation seemed unlikely, but the Arab uprisings have changed the dynamic.”
Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at email@example.com.