by Syarif Hidayat
“United We Are Stronger” or “Together We Are Stronger” or “United we stand, divided we fall” are phrases that have been used in mottos, from nations and states to songs. In Indonesia the motto says “Bersatu Kita Teguh, Bercerai Kita Runtuh” (United we are strong. Divided we fall). The basic concept is that unless the people are united, it is easy to destroy them. That is why If the Palestinians are to stand up against Israel, they must do it together. But it is easier than done.
The Fatah–Hamas conflict (Arabic: النزاع بين فتح وحماس an-Nizāʿ bayna Fataḥ wa-Ḥamās), also referred to as the Palestinian Civil War (Arabic: الحرب الأهلية الفلسطينية al-Ḥarb al-ʾAhliyyah al-Filisṭīnīyyah), and the Conflict of Brothers (Arabic: صراع الإخوة Ṣirāʿ al-ʾIkhwah), i.e., fratricidal war (The conflict is called Wakseh among Palestinians, meaning humiliation, ruin, and collapse as a result of self-inflicted damage.), began in 2006, after Hamas’s legislative victories and has continued, politically and sometimes militarily up to this day.
The conflict, which erupted between the two main Palestinian parties, Fatah and Hamas, resulted in the split of Palestinian Authority into two polities, both seeing themselves the true representatives of the Palestinian people – the Fatah ruled Palestinian National Authority and the Hamas Government in Gaza.
The Cairo reconciliation agreement between the parties was signed in May 2011, bringing hopes of reuniting the Fatah ruled Palestinian National Authority and the Hamas Government in Gaza.
The implementation of the agreement however was not executed up until the withdrawal of the Hamas external office from Damascus, due to the 2011-2012 Syrian uprising. As a result, the Doha deal was signed by Mahmud Abbas and Haled Mashaal in 2012. On April 1, 2012 the Doha implementation however was described as “stalling” with no progress on the joint elections scheme.
In addition, the Fatah blamed Hamas that its security forces have set up roadblocks and arrested dozens of Fatah members and individuals in Gaza, they whom accused of “spreading rumors”.
The tensions between Hamas and Fatah began to rise in 2005 after the death of longtime PLO leader Yasser Arafat, who died on November 11, 2004, and intensified after Hamas won the elections of 2006.
Yasser Arafat left the Palestinian Authority plagued with nepotism and corruption. In 2004–05 sharp rise in lawlessness and crime, as well as a steep decline in public service delivery, led directly to Hamas’s January 2006 electoral victory. In reaction, Israel, the United States, the European Union, several Western states, and the Arab states imposed sanctions suspending all foreign aid.
On 25 June 2006, Hamas conducted a cross-border raid into Israel. The Israeli response left Hamas with half its parliamentary bloc and its cabinet ministers in the West Bank in Israeli custody.
Despite the sanctions, and incidents of successful border interdiction, Hamas leaders were able to smuggle enough money into the Palestinian territories to maintain basic health and educational services. The defeated Fatah party maintains control of most of the Palestinian security apparatus outside Gaza. The US administration funded Abbas’s Presidential Guard.
Alleged involvement of the United States, Britain, Israel and Arab states
According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), June escalation was triggered by Hamas’s conviction that the Palestinian Authority’s Presidential Guard loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, which the US had helped build up to 3,500 men since August 2006, was being positioned to take control of Gaza.
The US committed $59 million for training and non-lethal equipment for the Presidential Guard, and persuaded Arab allies to fund the purchase of further weapons. Israel, too, allowed light arms to flow to members of the Presidential Guard.
The US insisted that all of its aid to the Presidential Guard is “nonlethal,” consisting of training, uniforms, and supplies, as well as paying for better infrastructure at Gaza’s borders.
“The situation has gotten to be quite dire in Gaza, we have a situation of lawlessness and outright chaos,” Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, who was overseeing the US program, said.
“This chaotic situation is why the [US] is focused on [helping] the legal, legitimate security forces in our effort to reestablish law and order.” Jordan and Egypt hosted at least two battalions for training.
Beginning in 2004, British intelligence MI6 prepared plans for a wide-ranging crackdown on Hamas, in cooperation with British officials at Whitehall, and these plans were passed to Jibril Rajoub senior Fatah official in charge of security, according the cache of Palestine Papers leaked to the press in 2011.
Most of these British plans, calling for the internment of leaders and activists, the closure of radio stations and the replacement of imams in mosques were implemented later during the conflict.
March 2006 to December 2006: rise of tensions
The period from March to December 2006 was marked by tensions when Fatah commanders refused to take orders from the government while the Palestinian Authority initiated a campaign of assassinations and abductions against Hamas, which led to Hamas beginning its own.
Tensions further grew between the two Palestinian factions after they failed to reach a deal to share government power. On December 15, Abbas called for a Palestinian general election. Hamas challenged the legality of holding an early election, maintaining its right to hold the full term of its democratically elected offices.
Hamas characterized this as an attempted Fatah coup by Abbas, using undemocratic means to overthrow the results of a democratically elected government. According to one Palestinian rights group, more than 600 Palestinians were killed in fighting from January 2006 to May 2007. A serious escalation in the violence was marked by the 2006 Rimal neighborhood shootings.
Reconciliation attempts: Early Attempts
On March 23, 2008, Hamas and Fatah signed an agreement in Sana’a, Yemen that amounted to a reconciliation deal. It called for a return of the Gaza Strip to the pre-June 2007 situation, though this has not happened. On November 08, 2008, Palestinian reconciliation talks due to be held in Cairo were called off on Saturday after Hamas announced a boycott in protest at the detention of hundreds of its members by president Mahmud Abbas’s security forces.
After six rounds of reconciliation talks that resulted in failure. In early September 2010, Cairo put forward a new document. That envisioned general elections to be held in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in the first half of 2010, a reform of Palestinian security services under the Egyptian control and the release of political prisoners by both factions. The agreement is stalled due to “inappropriate conditions.”
2011 Cairo Agreement
Hamas and Fatah, among other Palestinian groups, held talks aimed at reconciling rival factions for the first time in two years in February 2010. In March 2010, on the Doha Debates television show, representatives of Fatah and Hamas discussed the future of the Palestinian leadership.
On April 27, 2011, representatives of the two factions announced an agreement, mediated by Egypt, to form a joint caretaker government, with presidential and legislative elections to be held in 2012. On May 4, 2011 at a ceremony in Cairo the agreement was formally signed by the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.
The accord provides for forming a “transitional” government of technocrats to prepare for legislative and presidential elections to the Palestinian Authority in one year. It also permits the entry of Hamas into the Palestine Liberation Organization and holding of elections to its Palestine National Council decision-making body.
The Palestinian Authority continues to handle security in the West Bank, as does Hamas in Gaza. They will form a joint security committee to decide on future security arrangements. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu objected because Hamas still calls for the destruction of Israel. The United States said the new Palestinian government must recognize Israel, continue previous agreements with it and renounce violence.
In June 2011, following the unity accord, negotiations proceeded regarding the formation of a unity government. Among the issues discussed were recognition of Israel, security, governance, relations with the West, and economic policy.
Hamas had initially indicated that it wished to remain out of governance to focus on the more social work it conducted prior to its 2006 ascendancy, but it later retracted this statement. Negotiations were derailed over the issue of who would assume the position of Prime Minister, after Hamas rejected the appointment of current Palestinian Authority PM Salam Fayyad.
2012 Doha Agreement
The Doha deal, signed by Mahmud Abbas and Khaled Mashaal in 2012, was described as a step forward in the stalled implementation of the Palestinian reconciliation agreement, signed in Cairo in April 2011. On April 1, The reconciliation implementation however was described as “stalling”, with no progress on the joint elections scheme.
In addition, the Fatah blamed Hamas that its security forces have set up roadblocks and arrested dozens of Fatah members and individuals in Gaza, whom they accused of “spreading rumors.” In a letter to Binyamin Netanyahu in April 2012, Abbas expressed his regret that Israeli continued to oppose a reconciliation.
“The war has turned Hamas into a legitimate partner for Fatah.”
The Economist in its article titled: “The Palestinians – Reconciliation at Last?” says “for the Palestinian people craving an end to the bitter division between their two squabbling movements, the Islamists of Hamas in Gaza and the Fatah nationalists in the West Bank, few sights were more pleasing than the celebrations at the end of Israel’s eight-day offensive on Gaza last month.
A multicoloured sea of flags from every faction, including a raucous contingent of Fatah rarely seen on Gaza’s streets since Hamas ousted its forces in 2007, filled the courtyard of Gaza’s legislative council to celebrate the ceasefire. From the front steps of the building that Hamas has dominated since its takeover five years ago, Nabil Shaath, Fatah’s envoy, praised “the resistance” for its victory over “the enemy”. “The war has turned Hamas into a legitimate partner for Fatah,” he said.
A few days later Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah’s leader, who presides over the Palestine Authority (PA) in the West Bank, returned to his headquarters at Ramallah, proudly armed with Palestine’s upgraded status achieved at the UN in New York. He then invited all factions, including Hamas, to discuss the way ahead.
Proposals that were floated included asking the UN secretary-general to invite Israel and Palestine to initiate state-to-state negotiations, and applying to join more UN bodies, such as the International Criminal Court and the IMF, which has previously declined to make loans to the PA because it was not a state.
Both Hamas and Fatah have recently bolstered support for intra-Palestinian reconciliation with tentative gestures, cutting back on their habit of arresting each other’s members and proposing amnesties for the detainees each faction holds.
On December 3rd Hamas’s government in Gaza allowed 12 of the 450 Fatah officials who fled Gaza when Hamas took over the enclave to return. It has also set up a committee to ponder whether to free the 56 Fatah members, most of whom it has kept in solitary confinement since Hamas took Gaza.
Although the Gaza war helped the Palestinians to close ranks, divisions have yet to be closed. Mr Shaath left Gaza with no clearer notion of who might head a national-unity government, who might take part in it or what its policies might be. Behind the scenes, the old power struggle is likely to ensue.
Only a fortnight before the Gaza fracas, Mr Abbas dismissed Hamas’s rockets as “follies”. During the war he evaded demands that he visit Gaza, which, he still claims, remains under his jurisdiction as head of the PA. He also called for the Palestinian people to choose its leaders in long-postponed elections before forging ahead with a unity government.
Hamas officials responded in kind. They cold-shouldered Mr Abbas’s foreign minister, Riad al-Malki, when he joined an Arab League delegation that entered Gaza during the war, noting that Mr Abbas’s choice of delegate suggested he was treating Gaza as a foreign country.
When the Turkish foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, shed tears at the hospital bed of an injured child, a Hamas spokesman pointed at Mr Malki and said, “This is your doing,” a reference to what Hamas officials claim is the co-operation that Fatah people from Gaza gave Israel’s planners.
Moreover, Hamas is itself divided over the question of reconciliation with Fatah. Hamas officials in exile tend to favour it, and praised Mr Abbas’s bid for an upgrade of Palestine’s status at the UN. But Hamas ministers in Gaza, afraid that they may lose their jobs in a unity government, pooh-poohed Mr Abbas’s success at the UN, lest it restore his centrality to Palestine’s fate.
Udrub! Udrub! Tel Aviv! Tel Aviv!
While Mr Abbas in his UN speech reiterated his call for peaceful resistance, Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister in Gaza, praised the fighters as they returned in their fatigues, balaclavas and camouflage helmets from where they had dug in, expecting an Israeli ground offensive. “Udrub! Udrub! (Strike! Strike!),” cried the brother of Ahmed Jabari, the Hamas military commander assassinated by Israel at the start of the offensive. “Tel Aviv! Tel Aviv!” cried the crowds in response.
Indeed, Hamas may now try to build on its claimed success against Israel in Gaza by once again competing for influence in Fatah’s West Bank fief. Mr Haniyeh reached over the head of Mr Abbas, calling political leaders in the West Bank to thank them for organising solidarity protests during the war.
He also said Mr Abbas’s American-backed programme of security co-ordination with Israel should be dropped. “The Dayton project has begun to collapse,” chirps Wesam Afifa, editor of al-Risala, a Hamas newspaper, referring to the American general, Keith Dayton, who oversaw it.
Egypt’s Islamist president, Muhammad Morsi, has said he is ready to normalise trade with Gaza—once Hamas and Fatah are reconciled. The regional climate may favour Hamas’s entry into the fold. As it moves into the diplomatic orbit of America’s regional allies, Qatar and Egypt, and perhaps starts to negotiate, initially through intermediaries, with Israel, Western powers, including America, may set aside their reservations about a Hamas-Fatah coalition, particularly if the more amenable Khaled Meshal, Hamas’s leader in exile, decides not to step down.
Still, Hamas leaders in Gaza will be keen to retain their positions—and to reduce Fatah to junior partner. Both in Cairo and during the Gaza celebrations, they treated Mr Shaath as little more than a cheerleader, and Fatah’s armed wing in Gaza, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, as a faction under their command.
As Omar Shaban, who runs a Gaza-based think-tank called Palthink, says, “the war has transformed Hamas into the leader of the Palestinian political project.” Despite his UN success, Mr Abbas will still struggle to restore his and Fatah’s ascendancy among his own people, The Economist concludes.
Hamas says no unity with Fatah without armed wing
‘Those who consider erasing us will be erased from the pages of history,’ says Al-Qassam Brigades spokesman, according to the Times of Israel. Hamas will not agree to dismantle the Al-Qassam Brigades as part of a reconciliation deal with rival movement Fatah, a Hamas official said.
Moussa Abu-Marzouq, deputy head of Hamas’s political bureau, told his party’s newspaper Al-Resalah that reconciliation with Fatah could realistically unravel over the “security” issue, adding that Hamas will never agree to remove its armed wing from “the equation of confrontation with the occupation.”
Palestinian sources told the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi that Fatah is demanding that Hamas dismantle its armed wing as a condition for reconciliation. Egypt, the paper reported, is concerned that negotiations between the two movements may collapse following Hamas’s insistence on leaving the Qassam Brigades intact and integrating them into the PA security forces.
Created in 1992, the Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades turned Hamas from an organization primarily concerned with religious preaching and welfare into a terror group. The Brigades were the first Palestinian group to carry out a suicide attack against an Israeli target the following year and deadly suicide and rocket attacks continued throughout the 1990s and 2000s. The Brigades are listed as a terror group by the United States and the European Union.
Operation Pillar of Defense, launched by Israel against the Gaza Strip on November 14, followed the targeted killing of Ahmad Jaabari, the de facto commander of the Qassam Brigades. Talks between Fatah and Hamas are set to resume in Cairo on Thursday. Fatah officials expressed hope that Hamas will now agree to allow the Palestinian Central Election Committee to register some 400,000 Palestinians who do not appear in the voter registry.
Regarding negotiations with Israel, Abu-Marzouq reiterated his party’s principled position. “Hamas has not and will never negotiate with Israel,” he told Al-Resalah, but said negotiations were a moot point, since Benjamin Netanyahu — who appears fated to win the upcoming Israeli elections — has no intention to resume them.
Abu-Ubaida, a spokesman for the Al-Qassam Brigades, was more explicit than Abu-Marzouq on the prospect of his organization’s dissolving. “Dismantling the Al-Qassam Brigades or integrating them into the security forces is not up for discussion. We will not allow talk of it now or in the future,” Abu-Ubaida tweeted on Monday. “Those who contemplate erasing it will be erased from the pages of history.”
Rajab Abu-Sarriyah in his article published in www.almonitor.com titled “Failures of Palestinian Reconciliation” writes: Once again, the meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas Political Bureau Chief Khaled Meshaal raises concerns. It revives our dreams of ending intractable internal divisions, and will prolong a false hope.
The situation of the people of Gaza is not good, nor is that of the people in the West Bank. The former remain under siege, while the latter remain under occupation. Youth in both territories suffer from serious unemployment, and citizens of the West Bank can barely sustain themselves. Many people are waiting for salaries which have been withheld for two consecutive months.
The situation of Palestinians abroad is not any better. Palestinians in Syria face displacement or death. Palestinians in Lebanon continue to live in miserable camps as they have for over 60 years. Palestinians living in their homeland aren’t living as they should be, nor are those living abroad.
“I will never forget the day I was with the late President Yasser Arafat, who said that the Palestinian people will always be greater than their leadership. I will not forget this saying, because reality confirms it every day,” Rajab Abu-Sarriyah.
Although the meeting between Abbas and Meshaal in Cairo has political significance, some fear that it could prove just like the scores of meetings that preceded it. This fear is justified, since the meeting might prolong illusions of ending the division, so that people don’t lose faith in their current leadership, rise up against it, and themselves put an end to this shameful division.
First, it should be noted that the Egyptian involvement in the Palestinian issue has failed. For five years, under both the former and current regimes, Egypt has not achieved its goal of ending the divisions.
We believe that it is no longer useful to go to Cairo. Cairo faces internal problems that limit its effectiveness. At the same time, it has domestic and regional considerations that prevent it from ending the division.
Today, we Palestinians don’t need anyone’s sponsorship to succeed; we can do it by ourselves. Withdrawing the problem from Cairo doesn’t require searching for an alternative mediator, since the source of a resolution is the Palestinian people themselves. They are eager to end the divisiveness and are keen on preserving national unity.
How can reconciliation be achieved? We believe that Abbas and Meshaal should head directly to Gaza from Cairo and call for a popular conference to bring together all factions and forces. Abbas should call for a session of the Legislative Council in Gaza, with all deputies who can attend, even by video conference. During the session, Gaza would recognize Abbas as president, and the Legislative Council could be reactivated in order to achieve the demand of both sides.
Continuing with Cairo’s initiative will only waste more time before Israeli elections are held.
The Palestinian side lacks initiative. The results of the meeting in Cairo so far have been that the two Palestinian sides are only discussing how to implement previous agreements — in other words by initiating the elections committee in Gaza and holding consultations on forming a government.
A dramatic declaration of an end to divisiveness will not be made. Such a declaration is not even probable in the foreseeable future. An agreement on implementation, spearheaded by Meshaal on the part of Hamas, wouldn’t guarantee anything; Meshaal may not be in charge of Hamas in a few days or weeks from now.
What is preventing an announcement by the two men? They were even slow to announce the revival of reconciliation efforts in the wake of the second war on Gaza and the political battle in the United Nations.
What considerations by both parties prevent them from resolving the divisions? Several calculations and facts on the ground prevent them from doing so, including the obstacles and considerations we have mentioned earlier.
Clearly, a balance of power is still in place. Each side believes that time is on their side. They have also become become comfortable with being divided, having managed it successfully after failing to work as partners.
Does this mean that talking about ending internal Palestinian division is like talking about Arab unity, which the Arabs have talked and dreamed about for over 50 years? The answer may be a bitter “yes.” But even given such a possibility, we have to discuss ways to develop a “fraternal relationship” between both Palestinian sides.
If achieving unity by the Yemeni way is out of the question in the foreseeable future, we should at least search for policies that would unite the communities in Gaza and the West Bank. These policies are obligatory and necessary.
In spite of geographic obstacles and the Israeli occupation, which stand in the way of unity, a strategic discussion must be conducted. Even if a miracle happens, and an announcement is made unifying both components of the state, there must be guarantees to prevent a repeat of what happened five years ago, Rajab Abu-Sarriyah concludes his article.
A Director of the Midle East Monitor (MEMO) Dr. Daud Abdullah stated that reconciliation that had been carried out between Hamas and Fatah was full of conspiracy.
In his article titled: “The truth about the reconciliation talks” published on February 15 in the commentary section of MEMO website, Dr. Daud says that the United States and Israel have set the result of the reconciliation. It was evidenced by the decision which produced and intrigues that followed to the reconciliation.
Here is the complete article of Dr. Daud Abdullah:
“The truth about the reconciliation talks”
The Palestinian national reconciliation talks have turned into a reconciliation process. Like the Middle East Peace Process, they are without progress and an apparent end.
To boot, they can hardly be described as national since they are primarily about the chronic differences between Fatah and Hamas, both of which exert unrivalled influence over Palestinian national politics.
Last week, both organisations tried to gloss over what was evidently a failure to agree on procedural as well as substantive issues. The only agreement of note was to continue talking.
Although the electoral procedures were supposed to have been settled in a previous “Cairo Agreement”, President Mahmoud Abbas threw a spanner into the works by calling for new changes.
He wants to fix the date of the elections before the formation of the unity government, by a presidential decree, of course, without recourse to the Palestinian version of a parliament, the Legislative Council. Hamas rejected the proposal.
More substantively, Abbas apparently told the organisations that Palestine is now the West Bank and Gaza only and what remains is Israel. Neither Hamas nor Islamic jihad accepted this, pointing out that no one has the right to surrender the land of historic Palestine.
Not surprisingly, therefore, last week’s meeting in Cairo failed to produce any significant results. Indeed, Mr Abbas left Cairo before any decision was taken on the crucial issues of the PLO, the national unity government and elections.
One explanation for the botched talks was offered by the director of the Cairo-based Centre for Palestinian Studies, Ibrahim Al-Dirawi. He reported that during a secret meeting held in Ramallah between the US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, and Mahmoud Abbas and other PLO leaders, Shapiro requested that they “freeze the reconciliation talks until after President Obama’s visit to the region”.
Abbas duly, and dutifully, complied. In Cairo, he told his counterparts that he was unable to form a government with Hamas supporters while the US president was in the region.
In the same manner that this was outlined behind closed doors, the time has surely come for both Hamas and Fatah to tell the Palestinian people that there is no love lost between them and even a temporary marriage is out of the question.
The truth is, each party wants to preserve its influence in their respective enclaves; Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Fatah in the West Bank. Palestinians are now convinced that the best they can hope for is some form of loose arrangement between the two factions.
While common sense necessitates a united Palestinian leadership, Abbas is evidently pulled in opposing directions. While national responsibilities demand reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, previous agreements with Israel – and US paymasters pull him in the other direction.
The Israeli Minister of Finance, Yuval Steinitz, underscored this when he threatened to withhold the tax revenues – the equivalent of $100 million per month – due to the Palestinian Authority if it forms a unity government with Hamas.
To many observers, President Abbas’s objective is to hold elections more than anything else. Talk of reconciliation is only a means to cajole Hamas into an agreement to hold parliamentary polls.
Let’s assume for the sake of argument that the next election is not rigged; neither the PA nor Israel nor its Western supporters would sanction another Hamas victory.
PA – Israel “democratic” authority
There are no guarantees that the advocates of democracy for the Arab world would accept the democratic choice of the Palestinians if that means a Hamas government. Indeed, experience suggests the exact opposite.
Clearly Mr Abbas desperately needs to have the elections as a means to regain control of Gaza and extend his writ in the West Bank. In effect, the polls must expedite the exit of Hamas from the very door through which it entered.
This would give the PA and Israel the “democratic” authority to outlaw the movement and harass and arrest its members and supporters just as they did in the immediate aftermath of Oslo when hundreds were thrown into PA jails.
For now, Hamas appears to be in a position of relative strength. It has the legitimacy of being a resistance movement that has paid a price with the blood of its leaders and members. Moreover, it also has legitimacy from the 2006 elections, although things have changed.
The entire Hamas political leadership in the West Bank, as well as its cadres, are in either Israeli or PA prisons. The movement would not have a snowball’s chance in hell if a poll was called tomorrow. Hamas is acutely aware of this.
Its deputy leader, Musa Abu Marzouk, has said that the absence of political freedoms and the on-going detention campaign will turn any elections into a total farce. Abbas knows this, but is prepared to push on regardless.
It will remain an illusion
Hamas has thus raised the bar by calling for the next election, whenever it takes place, to include the Palestinians of the diaspora; the PA is unlikely to countenance this. Ironically, to exclude the diaspora from the vote would perpetuate the fragmentation of the Palestinian people.
A combination of political, economic and security factors have rendered reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas highly unlikely. As long as Abbas continues to grovel to the Americans and Israelis, it will remain an illusion.
For now, the only consoling fact from this sad state of affairs is that the Palestinian people can hardly be described as divided as much as their political representatives very clearly are. They are united because of the injustice done to them all, and this is something that will be reversed one day, no matter how long it takes. (T/HSH/E1)
Mi’raj News Agency(MINA)