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By Elliot Leven with Response from Rhonda Spivak, May 12, 2011


The Debate over The Fatah and Hamas  Reconciliation- A step forward or backward? 

Fatah-Hamas’s Reconciliation-A Small Step Forward

By Elliot Leven, May 12, 2011


All things end. Great Britain once refused to recognize America’s right to exist, and fought a bloody war to prevent it from existing.  Many died on both sides. Today, Britain and America are the closest of allies.

Until the early 1970s, the United States and China had no diplomatic relations, and would barely talk to each other.  It was considered a major breakthrough when a few of their citizens played ping-pong together. Today, their economies are inextricable intertwined.

Once Israel refused to talk to Fatah (the majority faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization) because Fatah was a terrorist organization.  Today, Israel and Fatah are partners in a search for peace.  Peace remains elusive, but cooperation with Fatah continues. Fatah controls the Palestinian portions of the West Bank.

Today, Hamas (which controls the Gaza Strip) is a terrorist organization that refuses to unconditionally recognize Israel’s right to exist. (In the past it has declared its support for the concept of a long-term cease-fire with Israel.) That does not mean that it will always be at odds with Israel.  If we can agree that a desirable goal would be for Israel, Hamas and Fatah to all be at peace, the practical question is: how do we get from here to there?

One major problem is that, since about 2007, Fatah and Hamas have been bitter enemies.  It is a shame the voters of Gaza elected Hamas in 2006, but the reality is that Hamas controls Gaza.  If there is ever to be peace in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, a first step must be some form of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.

This first step may have occurred on May 4 in Cairo.  With Egypt’s blessing, Hamas and Fatah signed an agreement which might pave the way for reconciliation between the two groups.  The pact calls for an interim Palestinian administration run by independent technocrats, in preparation for an open election which would elect a government to run both Gaza and the West Bank.  It is not clear how well Fatah and Hamas will be able to cooperate in the months ahead. 

However, the agreement did lead to some immediate symbolic signs of reconciliation. Hamas allowed Fatah-controlled Palestine TV to broadcast from Gaza for the first time in four years.  Also, Hamas allowed Gaza residents to wave yellow Fatah banners, which had been banned by Hamas police in the past.

Frmer United States President Jimmy Carter went on record as supporting the Fatah-Hamas agreement.  In a Washington Post editorial, Carter expressed his feeling that Hamas and Fatah “understand that their goal of an independent Palestinian state cannot be achieved if they remain divided.”  Carter is aware of the challenges ahead: “suspicions of Hamas stem from its charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction. I find the charter repugnant. Yet it is worth remembering that Israel negotiated the Oslo Accords with the Palestine Liberation Organization while its charter had similar provisions. It took five more years before the PLO Charter was altered.”

Israeli reaction to the Fatah-Hamas agreement has been mixed.  Prime Minister Netanyahu condemned the accord: “The agreement between [Fatah chairman] Abu Mazen and Hamas strikes a serious blow to the peace process.”  Netanyahu also labeled the accord “a great victory for terrorism.”

Israel’s Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz announced that he would delay the transfer to the Palestinian Authority (PA) of some tax money which Israel has collected on behalf of the PA.

Oher Israelis have been more balanced.  Yuval Diskin, outgoing head of the Shin Bet (Israel’s FBI), warned against blowing the accord out of proportion, and opposed the idea of withholding tax money from the PA: “Overall, we have to give the Palestinian Authority money.  If we, the Americans and the West do not give money, there will be no more Palestinian Authority.”

 A report prepared by the Israel Foreign Ministry’s planning division advises Israel’s government to take a “constructive approach” and to try to improve relations with Washington by being (and being perceived as) a “team player”.

In short, Netanyahu’s overblown rhetoric is excessive.  The accord may fall apart in the months to come.  Fatah and Hamas are far from being best friends.  Even if Fatah and Hamas achieve a real reconciliation, there will be no peace in the Middle East until Hamas really and truly comes to terms with Israel’s secure existence.  That may take years.

However, it would be foolish to say that Hamas will “never” be a partner in peace.  Just as it would have been foolish to say in 1776 that Britain and America would never be allies.  Or to say in 1970 that America and China would never be trading partners.

For now, Israel must use its considerable public relations skills to remind the world that Hamas still has to amend its charter and publicly renounce violence.  But even while doing so, Israel must keep an open mind to the possibility that, a few years from now, a Palestinian government (including representatives of Hamas) and Israel might sign some form of peace agreement.  Stranger things have happened.



 by Rhonda Spivak, May 12, 211

I agree with you that the unity between Hamas and Fatah is a step but I think it’s more likely to prove to be a step backward not forward. In other words—the agreement is more likely to embolden  and benefit Palestinian intransigence and maximalist claims [in addition to emboldening  terrorism] , rather than bolster Palestinian moderation.

Reading your analysis made me think of  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks early on in the demonstrations in Syria, when she said that Bashar Assad would be a “reformer.” What was she thinking? I didn’t buy her assessment  then and I don’t think anyone will buy it now. A Lion doesn’t just wake up and become a lamb, just  because we want it to be so.  Now should we really expect that Hamas, which has not made any change in its policy towards Israel in order to get into this unity agreement, is all of a sudden going to become a lamb. Like Assad, Hamas is also going to be the great reformer? The Iranian regime, which  backs Hamas, was also going to be a great reformer, so Obama hoped when he set out on his path to engage Iran. Does anyone really think now that he was correct?
Regarding the Hamas-Fatah Unity Agreement, it  could well mean that Fatah frees Hamas prisoners—the ones who have been involved in the worst terror? Do you really think that is going to lessen or increase the chances of terror long term. What was the point for all these years in countries like  the United States and Canada training a PA police force to supposedly fight off terror , when now they can just let them all free with no suggestion whatsoever that any of them are reformed.

The agreement in my view is a “marriage of convenience” because Palestinians  think it woill be more likely that the  world delivers them a state.

I think Barry Rubin’s, of the Gloria Centre of Strategic Studies is bang on:

“A PA that has absorbed Hamas as part of the government will not be able to negotiate seriously with Israel. Indeed, set on the unilateral independence strategy, it will not want to talk seriously with Israel. On no issues--borders, security guarantees, Jerusalem, refugees--will it be able to make the tiniest compromise. It will certainly not reduce incitement to violence or terrorist attacks.

“‘There is also the question of structural changes within the PA. Many within Fatah already want to get rid of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the man mainly responsible for the West Bank’s economic progress. Joined by Hamas partners, they would almost certainly succeed in forcing Fayyad out. If there are Hamas ministers, they will use their positions to bring their cadres into the government and turn the PA in a more radical and Islamist direction.

“It should be stressed that for the PA to be a real partner for peace, one of the most important tasks would be to reinstall its (or, perhaps one might better say, Fatah’s) hegemony over Hamas. This is not at all what is happening now. Either the partnership will break down or it will make Hamas stronger, the PA more radical and, hence, unsuccessful in producing peace, prosperity, or progress toward an actual Palestinian state.”

When I was at the J-Street conference in Washington, Feb 26-March 1 2010 , a couple of months ago, there was a session about  whether  the  peace process would be  enhanced if a Palestinian reconciliation  between Hamas and  Fatah  occurred before or after a Fatah Agreement with Israel.

Ronm Pundak, of the Peres Centre for Peace, who has solid left wing credentials and is an architect of the Oslo Accords was very clear in saying that there would be no agreement if  the reconciliation occurred now before Fatah made an accord with Israel, because Hamas are “spoilers”. [-I have a complete tape of Pundak’s remarks and will transcribe them in the future]. If bringing Hamas into the mix was such a good idea presumably the architects of Oslo would have done so years ago.
Pundak outlined the Islamic concept of “taqiya”, which he explained as “acceptance in order to strengthen yourself”- a strategy Hamas has employed. In my view, its very likely that Hamas has used this concept of “taqiya” , and  has entered a “marriage of convenience” with Fatah with the hopes that Fatah can convince the world to give the Palestinians a state based  on the ‘67 lines, and then once that happens  Hamas can proceed to  overtake Fatah and go for  conquering the rest of “Palestine” – Israel.
Hamas has previously said it is willing to temporarily accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The ultimate goal, however, would be a state of “Palestine in its entirety,” the Damascus-based Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal told Charlie Rose of PBS last year.

At the J-Street Conference, another solid left-winger Gershon Baskin,  CEO of  the Israel –Palestine Centre for Research and Information told a session that  Fatah was Israel’s “best partner,”  not that Fatah-Hamas was Israel’s best partner. He said, once “we lose Abbas and Fayyad” when Palestinians hold elections (which at the time Abbas wanted to be held in September 2010) “ Palestinians will be competing not to be more moderate but more extreme.”

Baskin was stating the obvious---now with this reconciliation agreement, we are all of a sudden supposed to think that the reverse is true?  

At J-Street, Pundak said that he believed that if Olmert and Abbas had reached an agreement then Fatah could have taken it to other Arab countries and asked for their support and then had a vote on it and the majority of people in Gaza would have said yes to it. That way  Hamas. “the spoiler” could have been left out .

I personally think that Pundak is dreaming that Fatah and Olmert were close to a deal.As has been shown by a full reading of the 1700 Pali Leak papers by a U.S. Christian organization released through Wiki leaks, ( not skewn by the Guardian and al-Jazeera), Olmert and Abbas weren’t close to reaching an agreement because Abbas was demanding the return not of 10,000 Palestinian refugees a year for 10 years for a total of  100,000  (as originally reported in the media) but  100,000 Palestinian refugees for 10 years, totaling 1 million and then that wasn’t necessarily all.

As for Netanyahu’s holding of the taxes, I agree with you will not help Israel’s standing in the world. And I also agree that Diskin’s assessment may well have some merit. Yet I haven’t read that Kadima leader Tzippi Livni is opposed to this. It seems to me that you also have to consider that Netanyahu has to account to his people---he does not want to give money to a terrorist group and find that they use it to attack, injure, maim, and kill Israelis.   Is it that unreasonable to say to the PA, please show us that Hamas has reformed and then once it’s clear they recognize Israel’s right to exist, we’ll hand over the funds. And if Hamas can’t do this (and I don’t think it can)—then do you really think Netanyahu has to give the money  over ? One would think that the Oslo agreement has been broken by the PA’s agreement with an unreformed Hamas. Is Israel obliged to fund terror against itself? (won't the Europeans or Arab States give the PA-Hamas government money?)
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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.