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Palestinian Unity Agreement: Partisan Self-Interest?

May 6, 2011 | Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz

Rather than making a move in the interest of their people, Hamas and Fatah may be uniting in order to ward-off the possible consequences of the recent upheaval in the Middle East and maintain their grip on power.

Robert Danin writes in foreignaffairs.com that the recent Hamas-Fatah unity agreement may be a self-preservation initiative by both parties. Hamas, he argues, has suffered a massive blow as a result of the unrest in Syria and therefore is facing an uncertain future.

Hamas’ avowed neutrality between the Syrian government and the protesters strained ties between Assad and the Hamas leadership, much of which is based in Damascus. Unsure how much longer its Syrian base would last, Hamas agreed to fundamental concessions that made unity possible.

Fatah, on the other hand, has lost Mubarak – one of its strongest supporters, which was also a major win for Hamas.

Throughout his rule, Mubarak had helped maintain the legitimacy of the PA’s quest for negotiated peace with Israel by adhering to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty and also claiming an active role in inter-Arab politics. Mubarak had also provided a line of communication between Abbas and Israel’s leaders and had given Abbas political mentorship.

…For Hamas, Mubarak’s fall was a godsend. Gone, along with Mubarak, was his intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, whose hostility towards Hamas was barely veiled. Both men had routinely pressed Hamas to make concessions to Fatah. Frequently, they had closed the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza to keep Hamas effectively sealed off from its ideological brethren, the banned Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. With Mubarak and Suleiman now gone, the Muslim Brotherhood back in the fore, and Cairo pursuing a new “independent” foreign policy, Egypt was no longer as closely aligned with Washington and far less hostile to Hamas.

He concludes, however, by obsergving that even if there are free elections, there is little to stop Hamas from holding on to power by force – noting that as long as Hamas is part of the Palestinian government and symultaneously refuses to renounce violence and recognise Israel, there will be no peace.

Perhaps the greatest challenge after the interim government takes over will be holding fair elections and creating a representative government while preventing Hamas from usurping the process. For years, the PA and the PLO have accepted mutual Israeli-Palestinian recognition and the peaceful resolution of outstanding conflicts as key tenets of Palestinian politics. But Hamas has always rejected these ideas. Should Hamas continue to refuse to recognize Israel and commit to non-violence, the Palestinian national movement will either split once again, or will have come full circle to its position in the 1960s, that violent resistance and rejectionism are the means for achieving Palestinian aspirations. As has recently been the case, the ongoing Arab Spring will shape the decisions all Palestinians take in the period ahead.

Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz

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