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Rival factions to hold talks

Kate ShuttleworthApril 18, 2014

The leaders of the Palestinian Hamas and Fatah factions are expected to meet in Gaza in an attempt to finalize reconciliation efforts and to pave the way for elections.

Palestinian Hamas security walk under a large Palestinian flag during a rally (photo: EPA/MOHAMMED SABER)
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and five members of Fatah's central committee are expected to arrive in Gaza early next week to meet with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to discuss Palestinian reconciliation efforts. Haniyeh confirmed that the rival Fatah movement led by Azzam al-Ahmad was expected to arrive in Gaza.

Mustafa al-Barghouti, head of the Palestinian National Initiative and one of the delegates, said members will discuss concrete mechanisms to form a national unity government and set a date to hold public elections.

Hamas Prime Minister Haniyeh announced in February his government would allow Fatah leaders and activists who fled Gaza in 2007 to return to their homes in an effort to pave the way to reconciliation between the rival parties. He also ordered the release of dozens of Fatah members held in controlled prisons.

Why the standoff?

Fatah holds the power in the occupied West Bank. Hamas won the last parliamentary election by a landslide in 2006, and took control of the Gaza strip sidelining Abbas's forces.The standoff between Fatah and Hamas began in 2007, just a year after Hamas' violent takeover of the Gaza Strip.

Member of Fatah's Executive Committee Mohammad Shtayyeh said it was important to quickly finalize the agreement and to then set the date for elections. Shtayyeh insisted that the new government should not be about Hamas and Fatah and members of political factions. "It’s not a cake sharing mission, it should be about all Palestinians. We're hoping for the best," he told DW.

"Hamas haven’t fulfilled the agreement," he added.

Khaled Meshaal und Mahmud Abbas (photo: AFP PHOTO /HAMAS PRESS OFFICE /MOHAMMED AL-HAMS)
Hamas leader Meshaal (left) and Palestinian President Abbas signed the Fatah-Hamas Doha agreement in 2012Image: AFP/Getty Images

The Fatah-Hamas Doha agreement intended to end the conflict between the two factions was signed in February 2012 by Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in the presence of Qatar's emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Back then, Hamas and Fatah agreed to a unity government that would be headed by Mahmoud Abbas and made up of technocrats. Abbas would serve as both the president and Prime Minister pending general elections in Gaza and the West Bank within six months.

Over two years later, reconciliation attempts are still underway. Nabil Shaath was sent to Gaza in February as head of a delegation from Fatah's Central Committee to hold talks with Hamas. He told DW it was time to end the divide with Hamas and said Abbas believed reconciliation would be achieved this time.

Stalemate to continue?

However, Israeli geopolitical analyst Ron Gilran said he didn't believe the meeting next week would lead to a significant breakthrough. He said a "stalemate" was likely going to continue as the two factions were pitted against each other in "a decade-long rivalry between a national-secular movement which supports the separation of religion and the state [Fatah] and a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, which although has national Palestinian traits, remains pan-Islamist in essence [Hamas]," he said.

"Both grounds wish to dominate the Palestinian political scene, and thus far they are unable to make it together."

Gilran said the chances of reconciliation would grow if the peace talks with Israel collapsed.

"Abbas would be inclined to reconcile with Hamas, as it would boost his popularity. I don’t think it’s by accident that the meeting was arranged after the recent crisis in talks with Israel," he added. "It signals that the option of reconciliation is on the table and may have been used to pile pressure on Israel, or to gain public support from Palestinians on the street."

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) shakes hands with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) during a meeting between Fatah and Hamas in Cairo, Egypt (photo: EPA/MOHAMED HAMS dpa - Bildfunk+++)
Abbas (right) is expected to meet Haniyeh to finalize the reconciliation dealImage: picture-alliance/dpa

According to Gilran, the Palestinian public was very pro-reconciliation but the leadership had been unwilling to make the necessary steps to make it happen in the past.

The European Union regards Palestinian reconciliation efforts and elections as important steps toward an eventual Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the agreement saying it would be impossible to reach peace with a government that included Hamas. "It is either peace with Hamas or peace with Israel. You can’t have both," Netanyahu said at the time.

"Reconciliation is in Israel's interest because it will cause Hamas to be your neighbors. You can't say 'I only want reconciliation with Fatah and with Palestinians in the West Bank,'" Palestinian billionaire and former minister in both Jordan and the Palestinian Authority Munib al-Masri said. He is one of the five members of the PLO in charge of resolving division between Fatah and Hamas and will be one of the delegation officials to meet in Gaza next week.

Pressure to finalize reconciliation

In 2012 Hamas became frustrated with Abbas after he said the next government would remain committed to the obligations and agreements signed by the PLO. According to Hamas, the remarks violated the agreements because the next government would be a national unity government not aligned with one political group or program.

Hamas has come under further pressure to finalize reconciliation efforts as the Egyptian military regime which seized power last July has intensified its crackdown on supply tunnels under its border with Gaza. It is estimated by Hamas that the Egyptian crackdown is costing the territory's severely depressed economy $230 million (166 million euros). Reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority is becoming increasingly necessary as Gazans become fed up.