The reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas is frozen, but implementation is necessary to minimise the risk of Israeli-Palestinian violence and bring about a Palestinian leadership able to reach and carry out peace with Israel.
Palestinian Reconciliation: Plus Ça Change …, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the motivations that prompted the two movements to sign the Egyptian-sponsored agreement in May. Prime among these were changes on the international and regional scenes. Declining Palestinian confidence in negotiations and in the U.S., coupled with Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, led Fatah and President Mahmoud Abbas to opt for a strategic reorientation of which reconciliation was one component. Likewise, changes in Egypt led the Islamist movement Hamas to gravitate toward Cairo and accept its proposal, even as popular unrest in Syria called into question the sustainability of its close ties to President Assad’s regime.
“There were several reasons why the parties at long last reached an agreement, though a genuine change of heart was not one of them”, says Robert Blecher, Crisis Group’s Arab-Israeli Project Director. “Neither Fatah nor Hamas changed its views of the other, and their mutual mistrust did not somehow evaporate. Rather, the accord was yet another unpredictable manifestation of the Arab Spring”.
Yet, while it took four years for the parties finally to reach an accord, that may well turn out to be the easiest part. At bottom, neither movement has fully reconciled itself to reconciliation, both believe time will prove it right, and both fear the consequences of compromise. The single most important stumbling block so far has been the identity of the prime minister, but there are many more.
A frozen agreement might suit the two parties’ respective short-term interests, but it is worrying in the longer term. Fatah and Hamas have a responsibility to move forward. Should formation of a government remain stalled, they nonetheless should move on other important issues. These could include beginning integration of the West Bank- and Gaza-based Palestinian Authority by unifying the bodies that will oversee much of the process; reforming the civil police and civil defence branches of the security sector; ending questioning and detention on political grounds; and providing for freedom of expression and association.
The international community also has a role to play. So long as the threat of financial sanctions against a new government looms, forward movement will be difficult. Europe and the U.S. need to realise that enduring Palestinian division will make it impossible to hold elections and thus will perpetuate the current crisis of legitimacy; heighten risks of violence; and limit Abbas’s diplomatic room for manoeuvre. Accordingly, they should judge the government by its deeds, particularly whether it enforces a mutual ceasefire with Israel and defers to the PLO chairman’s negotiating agenda.
“The Arab world is boiling. Palestinian activists chafe at the current paralysis”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East & North Africa Program Director. “The international community is contributing little of use. Meanwhile, the two leading Palestinian movements remain stuck in their ways. Plus ça change . . .”