The current Palestinian reconciliation agreement looks like it could actually hold, largely due to regional and internal changes over the past few years. What does this bode for the peace process? A former minister in the Palestinian government explains.
By Ashraf al-Ajrami
This is not the first time the two large Palestinian political movements, Fatah and Hamas, have come to a reconciliation agreement. There is a great deal of skepticism about whether it will succeed, particularly following the failure of previous reconciliation agreements. However, many feel that this time the two parties are serious, and success is possible.
This is based on a number of reasons, first and foremost the recent change in Hamas’ leadership. In its most recent internal elections, the movement chose a young leadership composed of charismatic and influential figures, among them several who spent time in Israeli prisons, like Yahya Sinwar, who was elected to party’s top post in Gaza. One of the first things the new leadership did was to take a hard look at reality in the Gaza Strip. It came to the conclusion that the Hamas regime has failed: living conditions are impossible; the situation cannot last much longer and may even end in conflagration. These leaders have a patriotic and pragmatic way of thinking vis-a-vis the population of Gaza.
Moreover, the situation in the Arab world has changed dramatically following what was deemed the “Arab Spring.” The rise and fall of political Islam was followed by the demise of the Muslim Brotherhood’s regime in Egypt, the failure of the Ennahda in Tunisia, and the developments in Syria following the victory of Bashar al-Assad and his allies, Russia and Iran.
Hamas agrees to two states
The regional problems have an influence on the states who supported radical Islamist groups in Syria and other places (such as Egypt) — first and foremost Qatar. Furthermore, Turkey has its issues with the United States, the Kurds, and with the EU, the latter of which refuses to allow it into the union. The dominant axis in the region is currently led by Egypt, the Emirates, and Saudi Arabia, with Egypt playing a significant role.
Donald Trump’s ascent to the White House is yet another change on the international stage. The American president will not reconcile with political Islam, nor will he try to form an alliance with Islamist movements, as the Obama administration did. On the contrary, he views these movements as enemies that must be fought, and it seems he will support regimes that go to war against them. During his visit to Riyadh, Trump named four organizations on his terrorism list, Hamas among them. This was probably enough for the movement to re-think the issue of international legitimacy. The international legitimacy it craves can only be achieved through the Palestinian leadership, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, as well the moderate currents of the Arab world, and with the consent of the United States.
Hamas likely made a strategic decision to let the Palestinian Authority rule the Strip. It seeks to maintain its power on the sidelines without interfering with the ruling powers, while upholding the interests of its civil servants — an issue that is to be resolved by a new committee. The decision was made based on Hamas’ failure in Gaza, and the movement’s concern that the situation will explode. This is why many believe reconciliation will work this time. The Hamas leadership’s flexibility during talks in Cairo show that the movement has unequivocally accepted this decision, despite the latent skepticism left over from previous failed attempts at reconciliation.
Palestinian reconciliation can do much to move the peace process along — if Israel decides to advance toward a deal and end the conflict based on two states along pre-1967 borders, that is. The Israeli government constantly uses the inter-Palestinian split as an excuse not to move forward on negotiations. It claims that President Abbas does not represent all Palestinians, and it argues that Israel cannot withdraw from the West Bank due to the possibility of a Hamas takeover, which would endanger Israeli security.
Now there is a reconciliation process, specifically around a general agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state along pre-1967 borders. Hamas has signed on to that — to the two-state solution. If the Israeli government supports a peace process based on two states, it must support Palestinian reconciliation and returning the PA to Gaza — it cannot just remain silent or make negative statements that cast doubt on the value of the process just because it is worried about what the U.S. and Egypt might think. Any positive development on this issue must be praised, and we should not gamble on its failure or try to torpedo the process.
Ashraf al-Ajrami was the minister of prisoners affairs for the Palestinian Authority between 2007 and 2009. This post was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.