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Middle East

Fatah-Hamas unity in tatters

A year after signing a reconciliation deal, the Fatah-Hamas unity government is in disarray as Fatah continues to loses support in the West Bank to Hamas. Mel Frykberg reports from Ramallah.

The fluid and rapidly changing dynamics of politics in the Middle East, where allegiances can shift dramatically, is impacting Palestinian politics and the biggest loser appears to be the Fatah-affiliated Palestinian Authority (PA) which is losing support amongst its followers and being sidelined by Hamas.

Despite promising to never negotiate with "terrorists," Israel appears to have sidelined the PA and is currently holding secret talks with Hamas to reach an understanding on a long term "quiet," which would include Israel significantly easing its blockade on Gaza. Numerous intermediaries are involved in the talks, including officials from the United Nations, Europe and Qatar.

Israel's fears of another outbreak of fighting follows its recent shelling of northern Gaza in retaliation for a rocket fired into Israel from Gaza, a scenario which preceded previous wars between Hamas and Israel.

Israeli soldiers Copyright: ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images

Israel fears a repeat of last year's Gaza war

Israel's sidelining of its traditional PA ally is a consequence of the failure of Fatah to reach a consensus with Hamas repeatedly, and especially following a PA ministerial delegation's visit to Gaza last week which ended in a stalemate.

Bad blood

The acrimony between the two groups reached a nadir recently when PA Minister of Labour Mahmoud Abu Shala said contacts between the two groups had been cut over failure to reach a compromise on major issues. Repeated attempts by DW to contact Hamas and Fatah spokesmen for comment were unsuccessful.

Middle East expert and analyst Benedetta Berti from Israel's Institute of National Security Studies (INSS) in Tel Aviv says the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation faces a number of problems.

"There are the ideological differences in regard to religion and how to deal with Israel on which they've never seen eye to eye," Berti told DW.

"There is so much bad blood between them that Hamas recently allowed demonstrations in Gaza in support of Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan, an arch enemy of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, when most pro-Fatah demonstrations are banned."

Dahlan is believed to be one of the main provocateurs during Gaza's 2007 civil war.

"The main issue, however, is non-payment of salaries in Gaza with both Hamas and Fatah wanting their followers to have employment priority," said Berti. "The bulk of Hamas' Gaza employees are in the security sector and Hamas doesn't want PA security forces taking over Gaza's border crossings as stipulated in the unity agreement last year - and a prerequisite for desperately needed reconstruction material entering Gaza."

Impasse

Political analyst Professer Samir Awad from Birzeit University, near Ramallah, says the PA sees Hamas as double crossing them while Hamas believes the PA is not sincere in reconciling.

"The situation is getting worse by the day. Fatah and Hamas are now further apart than they have ever been and the future is quite bleak," Awad told DW.

Reconciliation would serve Palestinian political ambitions by helping Fatah to regain a foothold in Gaza and ending Hamas' political and economic isolation.

However, the tide could be turning with Hamas' popularity in the West Bank growing as the PA's popularity reaches an all-time low there.

Recent elections held at Birzeit University, a traditional Fatah stronghold and a barometer of Palestinian political development, saw Hamas win a majority of seats with Fatah trailing behind.

The Islamic List emerged victorious with 26 seats, while the Fatah-affiliated list trailed with 19. In 2014 Fatah won 23 seats while Hamas took 20. Several smaller parties also took part. Voter turnout was 77 percent with approximately 9,000 students voting.

Picking sides

DW spoke to two students who took part in the elections, one supporting Hamas and the other supporting Fatah.

A female student Copyright: Mel Frykberg

Nadine Suleiman admires Hamas' courage...

Nadine Suleiman, 22, a fourth-year public administration student from Ramallah, voted for Hamas.

"I never used to support either party but I support the courage with which Hamas resisted Israel last year during the war," she said. "I detest the corruption of the PA, their security coordination with Israel which involves arresting and killing Palestinians who are on Israel's wanted list while Palestinians get nothing in return."

"The PA is only interested in keeping its wealth and privilege. It needs to decide whether it wants democracy or wants to cling on to political power," said Suleiman.

Suleiman's friend and class mate Samira Hamayel, 21, voted for Fatah in the Birzeit elections and the two argue repeatedly about politics.

"I voted for Fatah and I believe the reason they are losing support is internal divisions. But I agree with their ideology and believe women have more freedom under the PA than under Hamas," Hamayel told DW. "However, I don't like the PA either or their collaboration with Israel."

A female student Copyright: Mel Frykberg

...while Samira Hamayel supports Fatah

Meanwhile, Israeli intelligence is also concerned about the swing toward Hamas and away from Fatah in the West Bank.

Israeli security forces have carried out a wave of arrests of Hamas members in the territory over the last few months accusing them of planning attacks against Israeli soldiers and settlers.

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