The following text is part of a paper I wrote in September 2011 on the prospects for reconciliation. I should update it soon, but - despite everything - things haven’t changed that much yet.
The relations between the two Palestinian factions have never improved since the split between Fatahland and Hamastan occurred. Prospects for national reconciliation have always been dim and they did not improve despite the signing of a deal in May 2011.
In these four years since the takeover, the PLC’s and the Presidential terms have expired - thus making not only Fayyad’s government, but also Haniyeh’s and Abbas positions illegitimate. The progresses can be resumed in the Egyptian Reconciliation Document: a deal on the recognition of the main problems to be solved, but not on the way to solve them.
Without entering in the details of the various cycles of talks between the two leaderships, sponsored by Egypt, we will analyze the main issues and the main patterns, in order to understand why a conciliation agreement was finally signed, but its implementation is still in a stalemate.
The first general consideration is on the low priority given to national reconciliation by both Fatah and Hamas leadership. It is striking since average Palestinians accord it, instead, the highest importance. The pattern of talks between the two movements, have always been alternative to prospects for negotiations with Israel. In practice, Abbas and Fatah engaged in national dialogue only when there were no chances for going back to the negotiating table. As it is, Fatah sees reconciliation with Hamas as preventing political dialogue, eroding Palestinian position and posing numerous problems that would “distract” the efforts from achieving statehood.
Rounds of talks, thus, are “used” - by Fatah at least - as a distraction for the masses. As a way of showing that somehow, lacking progresses in the peace process, there is some process in place, although it is not true.
Nevertheless, of course, both movements want to negotiate from a better position. There is a strong majority within both leaderships who believe they are stronger than their opponent and that the other’s government is going to fall soon. Relying on hope, they have fewer incentives to engage seriously in talks. That is, there’s never a right moment since both of them think they can be even stronger and they should not make concessions to the other. Strikingly, a deal was reached when both movements feared for themselves, not when they thought they were more powerful. As soon as the crisis passed, everything went back to normal and nothing really changed.
Of course, resistance to an agreement is widespread in both movements. While there are some “doves” - notably some of the nationalists and Barghouti for Fatah, the moderate internal political leadership in Hamas - the overall balance of power between different wings and constituencies is unfavorable to a change in the main political line. Fear of losing power, security dilemma and interests in keeping the grip on Fatahland and Hamastan contribute to formulate a “hawkish strategy”. Until a State is obtained and recognized, incentives for reconciliations are poor and do not justify the possibility of being excluded from power.
Going directly to elections represents one of the few viable solutions - excluding external shocks - to remap the relations of power. The new government and the new majority in the PLC would then be asked to collaborate with the opposition in order to redraw a new constitutional asset, reform the system and write new rules of the game. However, the lack of guarantees for the acceptance of a democratic mechanism of alternation to power brings us back to square one. Although elections would be the easiest solutions - if both movements agree on recognizing the results - none of the movements have a real interest in participating. Fatah would not only need to win, but it would need a large victory to reassert its historical role. Therefore, it would need to sort out its internal problems and be organized, strong and compact. Hamas as well has to show its muscles and attain a great result. Whether it is able to do it, with its West Bank structures frozen and with a process of transformation in Gaza, it has to be seen.
At the moment, if elections are organized and boycotted by Hamas in Gaza, problems will only increase. In fact, if they are to be held only in the West Bank, it would sanction the separation between the two Palestinian areas and it would represent Ramallah’s disengagement from the Strip. However, elections would also impose a decision on the Hamas West Bank leadership, whether to abide to the boycott and, thus, continue to remain underground risking losing even more ground in the long term. The alternative would be to participate under a different banner and find a mechanism of coexistence with Fatah in the West Bank. However, it would also mean to split off from the Gaza-centered Hamas.
The issues to be discussed and solved by the two factions are the reform of the PLO, of the Electoral Commission and of the security apparatus. To these main points, it must be added the formation of a new executive - formed by agreed-upon independents, technicians or having the same number of posts for Fatah and Hamas - or scheduling new elections.
Activating Or Restructuring The PLO
The first issue over which Hamas and Fatah should find an agreement is the reform - “activation” according to Fatah and “restructuration” according to Hamas - of the PLO.
Hamas has always refused to enter the umbrella organization, challenging its legitimacy to be representative of all the Palestinian people. However, in recent years and especially after the 2006 elections, the Islamic Movement and Fatah have discussed its formal entry.
This would mean that on one side Hamas recognizes the PLO as the legitimate representative in the international arena - thus avoiding an engagement in separate talks - and the previous agreements signed between the organization and Israel. It would be a further incentive to the moderation and institutionalization of the Islamic Movement. In exchange for recognition of its role and its acceptance by Fatah as a legitimate actor, Hamas would have fewer incentives to boycott PLO’s initiatives.
Indeed, the Islamists would contribute to the elaboration of a “foreign policy”. Being represented inside the organization and within its Central Committee, would give an institutional veto power to Hamas, as well as a responsibility in formulating a coherent strategy for statehood. In fact, despite the overlapping of PA and PLO’s structures, it is this latter who retains the power of signing agreements and negotiate with Israel. Abbas has formally such power not because he is the President of the PA, but as Head of the PLO. One of the first deals reached between Abu Mazen and Haniyeh, in the aftermath of the formation of the first Hamas’ executive, was that the Islamic Movement recognized the President’s primacy in foreign policy.
Since elaboration of a foreign policy is the main spoil of the game, Hamas has as much an interest in taking a big piece of the cake as well as Fatah in scaling it down the Islamist’s ambitions. During the various reconciliation talks, Fatah proposed a minority share to Hamas and Islamic Jihad together, so that it could continue to easily have the relative majority and a 2/3 majority allying itself with the secular factions. Fatah did not want to lose any ground and it proposed a quota system based on the historical role and leadership, more than on a real assessment of the power on the terrain. Hamas on the contrary, it has asked the half of the seats in the Executive Committee for its movement and Islamic Jihad. The lowest offer made by Hamas had been a 40% quota for the two Islamists factions. The intention was not just to take the biggest piece of cake. Giving 40% to Hamas it would have meant that Fatah had to either decrease its presence, or scale down to minimum terms the representation of all the other historical secular factions. Thus, relations in the secular field would have been soured.
The solution envisioned by many and included in the Cairo Agreement, as well as in the latest reconciliation deal signed in May 2011, foresaw a delay in Hamas entrance in the PLO until further agreements were reached and elections for the new PLC held. In the meanwhile, a “national leadership framework” composed of one representative from each faction - here comprising also Hamas and the Islamic Jihad - plus the Executive Committee members and the Chairman of the National Council should have been formed. The so-formed committee would have needed consensus on the elaboration of guidelines for the conduct of the PLO. At the same time, it should have worked on a scratch of new constitutional arrangement and reform of the umbrella organization.
The difference, however, resided in the value Fatah and Hamas attributed to the council. According to Hamas, in fact, its decisions taken by consensus were binding for the PLO’s negotiation team and for the Chairman. Fatah, on the contrary, claimed that the committee would have just provided insightful suggestions to the PLO’s Executive Committee, which therefore was not going to be dismissed or substituted.
It is clear, that this is a major source of contrast. Each interpretation completely changes the basic understanding behind the agreement.
Democratic Alternation Into Power
The second main point of friction is the reform of the electoral commission. Although formally independent, Hamas claims it should be reformed and its board substituted with members of each faction and not only affiliated or close to Fatah. The reform of the Central Electoral Commission is just meant to assure that the competition is free and fair.
Here, again, the real problem lies elsewhere. Hamas “simply” wants guarantees that it won’t be prevented from winning elections again and most of all from ruling in a normal way.
This assurance, however, can only come from the outside. It needs a new phase of dialogue especially with the US, who will formally guarantee that they won’t use Fatah to overthrow an Islamist government, they won’t impose a boycott and they will respect the popular will. In exchange, of course, of guarantees on part of Hamas of pursuing a pragmatic and moderate line, avoid attacks against Israel or the use of power to Islamize society. In substance, Hamas wants the US to be bounded to the agreements already taken in 2004-2005 and readily dismissed by the Bush Administration. A green light from the US would also mean that Fatah - or part of it - cannot work underground against the Islamist movement, but should instead function as a constitutional and legal opposition.
One of the main reasons behind the failure of the round of reconciliation talks in October - November 2010 - when Fatah members often met with both Khaled Meshaal in Damascus and Haniyeh in Gaza - allegedly was a stop requested by the US administration. Although conditions on the ground had not changed substantially, some Fatah members and analysts pointed out to the Obama administration as the main reason for the stalemate. In fact, the US were engaged in extending the settlement moratorium in order to revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. For this reason, the State Department would have asked Abbas to delay reconciliation talks as not to damage its efforts in convincing the Nethanyahu government to agree on the proposed conditions and go back to the negotiation table.
At the same time, however, there were rumors of talks between the Gazan leadership of Hamas and the Israeli executive, mainly aimed at weakening Fatah’s role. This might have also been a result of the unchanged balance of power between pro and anti reconciliation wings within the two movements, who worked against the agreement.
Whether these factors had really prevented a (doubtful) positive outcome of the round of talks, they surely have to be taken into account if a reconciliation deal has to be reached. Without an agreement on part of the US administration there can’t be pressure on Israel to accept it, incentives on Hamas to leave the grip on Gaza and participate in new elections, acceptance of a mechanism of democratic change in power. The two, majoritarian, constituencies within both movements - who do not have an interest in reconciliation - cannot be curbed.
Tackling The Security Dilemma
The third, and probably most important, point the two factions have to sort out is security.
The circle cannot be squared without tackling effectively this issue. The security dilemma between the two factions cannot be solved without addressing correctly the need for a reliable, apolitical, national security apparatus. This process, of course, clashes with the many particular interests involved. Both on the side of heads of the various security forces, the leaderships, Israel and the International community.
Despite reform attempts in the security sector of the West Bank, aimed at building a professional and independent security force - trained by the US General Dayton in Jordan - independence from factional control is far from reached. Recruitment of would-be members is based on very strict criteria. All the selected members in the Preventive Security, for example, should have a degree, pass a series of exams, selections and interviews, be suitable for the task according to psycho-attitudinal tests and have no previous criminal record.
However, affiliation to Fatah is unofficially seen as an asset if not even a prerequisite. Islamists sympathies are blamed and the new recruits and carefully scrutinized to reconstruct their political and familiar affiliations, religious ideas and background of political activism. Plus, all the proposed recruits’ names are double checked by Israeli authorities and secret services, which have a veto on admissions.
Security coordination with Israel imposes another obstacle toward the creation of an integrated national security force. Hamas members recruited in the West Bank security apparatuses would be targeted or arrested by IDF. They would, moreover, be asked to cooperate on imposing order on the Palestinian themselves. This is already a point of weakness for Fatah, since the PA and its coordination with Israel is often perceived as being contrary to the Palestinian’s own interests and it is detrimental of its reputation.
Of course, knowing that it is stronger in the West Bank and that it can count on Israeli and international interference in the matter, Fatah does not want to open membership in its security apparatuses to Hamas militants. Neither integrate Hamas underground gunmen, nor accept large numbers of Islamists. However, the Gazan leadership acknowledges the peculiar conditions of the West Bank and its difference from the Strip. Thereafter, it largely agrees on excluding its members from being recruited. Still, it asks for guarantees that the security apparatus would swell its allegiance to the Minister of Interior, despite Hamas or Fatah being in place.
In the Gaza Strip the scenario is completely different after the disengagement and even more after Hamas’ takeover. While there is no Israeli interference, Fatah has to cope with the presence of the Executive Force and the new Civilian Police established by Hamas since 2007. Whether a unity government is formed, Hamas officers and Qassam Brigades members should be integrated with the pre-existing PA forces.
Moreover, building a new national police force and eradicating the security dilemma, means that loyalty should be pledged only to the PA whoever is governing. Therefore, a cosmetic reform is not sufficient to reach the goal. Security apparatuses have to be “cleaned” from Arafat’s heritage.
The plan proposed in Cairo comprised the creation of three security branches: a national security force, a civilian police and an intelligence service. This restructuring would have implied a decrease in the overall number of officers, a clearer repartition of competences and a more centralized command. Further than that, no military force should have been left outside the national security apparatus.
A “higher security committee”, composed of agreed-upon professionals, should have implemented the reform. Their names, however, should have been decided later on by the interim government.
Hamas’ main concern, thus, was related to the integration of its apparatuses in the new structure, as well as to the position retained by the Qassam Brigades. The Islamic Movement considers its military wing to be outside the security sector, although they often back Gazan security forces or undertake internal security tasks. They want them to be left outside the new framework and retain their role as well as their weapons. The Brigades fear retaliation on part of Fatah, as well as being weakened and thus unable to confront the rival faction if new contrasts arise.
Reaching An Agreement or April’s fool?
On the 27th of April 2011, Hamas and Fatah surprised everyone announcing that they had reached an agreement on National Reconciliation. The deal was effectively signed in Cairo on the 4th of May. It included the same Egyptian Conciliation Document that had been lying on the table for the past two years. Fatah was insistent on signing the original document where, strikingly, the name of Mubarak appears and it has not been changed with that of provisional government. However, the factions also agreed on including the reserves advanced by Hamas and an additional five points discussed in April. Further than that, the two movements reached an informal verbal understanding, which often changes or undo provisions included in the written documents.
The agreement effectively includes all the thorny issues: it calls for the establishment of a temporary leadership framework as an intermediate step toward the reform of the PLO and the official entry of Hamas; it recognizes the importance of proceeding to a restructuring of the security apparatuses; it contained provisions for the formation of an interim government and for Presidential and Legislative elections to be held within a year.
The main difference, with respect to the original Egyptian Document, was that Fatah and Hamas agreed on proceeding sequentially and step-by-step. Talks for the formation of a National Unity government would have started immediately. When the new executive assumed its functions, they would have moved on to the creation of a National Leadership framework and so on. However, they got stuck soon afterwards the agreement was signed and at the easiest part.
In order to understand why the agreement was signed but finally failed to be implemented, we should first analyze the internal and regional context that led to the 27th of April announcement.
The Arab Spring Effect
As already said before, the agreement was not reached when one of the two movements was overwhelmingly stronger than the other. Rather, it happened quite the contrary. Both movements decided to reach an understanding because regional and internal factors made them weaker and unsure about their position.
The agreement was thus the outcome of a lowest common denominator based on fear, not on a substantial change among movements and their basic strategies. It is no coincidence that a deal was found at the zenith of the wave of the so-called Arab Spring.
We could say, that Egypt was the cause and Syria was the push. In fact, regional wave of protests that forced Mubarak in Egypt to resign and Bashar al-Assad in Syria to respond with harsh repressive measures, were the main factor behind Fatah’s and Hamas’ strategic calculus.
For Fatah, the fall of Mubarak represented the lost of the main ally in the region. For this reason, Abbas adopted a cautious line during the Tahrir Square events - when he avoided condemning Mubarak’s actions against the demonstrators and ask for its resignations, despite Palestinians in Ramallah supported a regime change. Indeed, Abu Mazen’s reaction was prompted by regional power considerations. Over the last twenty years, Fatah has been growingly isolated at the regional level. Both as a consequence of the signing of the Oslo Accords and because of Arafat’s foreign policy. The party has acknowledged its need for new and solid relationships with the Arab regimes and it has started working in this direction. However, Mubarak represented the only viable ally - also thanks to its ties to the US. The prospects of revolutionary changes in the region made Fatah officials afraid of the growing importance of Iran and Islamists.
As Mubarak fell, another strategic consideration became widespread shared within Fatah. Even those leaders closer to Washington, began to lose faith in the US, in their status of superpower in the region and in the Administration ’s reliability. That is, Abbas himself feared that Obama would have been more interested in maintaining its status in the region through an “active role” in the Arab renaissance, rather than wasting time and efforts on the Palestinian question. Especially, since the Arab Spring showed that not all the problems of the region are linked to Jerusalem, but that internal considerations are way more important.
Mubarak’s fall, of course, had consequences also for Hamas. Relationships between Cairo and Hamas were far from cordial. The Egyptian regime had always adopted a rigid stance and it had tacitly cooperated - under US and Fatah pressure - with Israel in the implementation of the blockade.
Moreover, Omar Suleiman - the head of intelligence services which acted as the mediator between Fatah and Hamas in 2009 - was nominated Vice-President by Mubarak in an attempt to avoid losing power. Suleiman had always been regarded by Hamas as one of the strongmen of the regime more hostile to the Islamic Movement.
The Gazan leadership, thus, regarded the Tahrir’s events with a mix of joy and anxiety. It needed to maintain good relationships with whoever was ruling in Cairo. Moreover, an entry of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood in the government could have not represented the best solution for Hamas. As Abbas did in the West Bank, Hamas downplayed popular demonstrations of solidarity with the Egyptian people and it avoided taking a clear stance.
As the new interim executive was formed, after Mubarak’s departure, the situation for Hamas seemed improving.
Initially, in fact, the military were seen as aiming to restore Egypt as a power player in the region. In order to do it, they seemed to be taking the distance from conservative pro-western regimes and even leaning a bit toward Iran. Therefore, Hamas felt reassured that the unbalance of power toward Fatah in the previous rounds of negotiations had been readdressed.
To all those considerations, it must be added the Egyptian interim government’s will to pursue an active foreign policy and achieve results. Estimating the signing of a Reconciliation agreement a tangible sign of the new course in foreign policy, Cairo made pressure to both Fatah and Hamas. The two movements, thus, could not refuse risking a bad start in their relations with the new cabinet.
But while Egypt was the cause behind the reconciliation agreement, as said, Syria was the push. Cairo events and changes in the regime structure were more important as Egypt represented the natural hinterland for Hamas in Gaza. However, once the leadership felt reassured, the explosion of large-scale popular protests in Syria changed again the scenario. Damascus, in fact, is the main Hamas’ Arab patron, offering a safe refuge to its external leadership and performing an important liaison role in the movement’s relationship with Iran and Hizbullah. While the Persian regime provides more funds and weapons to the Islamic movement, Syria is the hub of its map of external relations. Fear of a downfall of the regime, pushed the members of the Politburo in Damascus - and notably Khaled Meshaal - to initially seek shelter in Qatar.
Although Meshaal and the other leaders are still in Syria, Hamas relations with the regime have suffered a severe setback. The Islamic Movement, in fact, has officially thanked Assad for its support, but it has not taken a position in the internal conflict. While the government has asked for support and help, Hamas has refrained from providing it. It does not want to damage its relations with the Sunni majority of the Syrian population and alienate sympathy in the country as well as in the rest of the Arab world. Tensions between Hamas and Assad might also result in an erosion of its relationship with Iran, which seems highly disappointed by the movement’s inaction.
The strategical, but contingent, shift of power within Hamas, seems to have temporarily weakened the “hawkish” positions, which are contrary to the reconciliation. The external leadership, in fact, might have considered reconciliation as a “way-out” strategy. As a mean to defuse pressure and retain power in a moment when external support was weak. The interior leadership seems to have been quite surprised by Meshaal’s change of perspective. The moderates, who called for an understanding with Fatah, seeing the isolation of Hamastan as detrimental both to the Palestinian cause and their own movement’s strength, profited from the occasion and backed the decision. Those wings contrary to any deal and any peril to their power, were reassured by the vagueness of the accord and the long terms of its implementation.
Internal considerations represented a further incentive to find an agreement. Inspired by the Arab Spring, protests erupted in the West Bank and Gaza as well. People gathered in the streets in the main city centers to show their support to the Egyptian people. However, both the PA and the Gazan authority tried to prevent them from taking place, out of fear of political consequences as it regarded their relation to Mubarak. Further than that, they were both afraid that demonstrations would spill in contestations aimed at criticizing their own governments. Both movements tried to feed protests in the rival’s courtyard, while preventing them at home.
In March, popular pressure mounted and young activists started organizing themselves on Internet and social media. Spontaneously, a movement calling for mass demonstrations and reconciliation was formed. Demonstrations took place on the 15th of March and, although demonstrators were quit limited in numbers, they represented a source of embarrassment for the two leaderships.
With such a scenario, reconciliation seemed an obliged, but tactical choice for the two movements. Since security reform would have been delayed and both governments would actually remain in place, the agreement served the only purpose of nominally extends PA’s authority on the Strip again. For Hamas, it would have meant maintaining its structures and its grip, but being lifted from covering the Gaza’s budget by itself. It is not by chance that, as soon as talks on the formation of a new executive and the names of possible PM started, the PA announced a plan for the reconstruction of Gaza. More than an agreement on power sharing, it meant saving Fatah’s face and credibility - especially on the eve of September statehood bid - while taking some pressure off Hamas.
Fayyad And The Next Prime Minister
Soon after the signing of the reconciliation deal, disagreement sprung out again. The agreed path of issues to be addressed by the talks, forecasted the nomination of a new government. Formed either by members of both factions or by independents, it was initially agreed that it would have been led by Salam Fayyad. The external leadership, in fact, was eager to agree on Fayyad’s name - since he would have guaranteed a constant income of donor’s money - in exchange for other things. Since Hamas’ leadership knew that one of their exponents could not fill the post, they did not give much importance to the name.
However, the internal leaderships vetoed Fayyad’s name. For the West Bank constituency, the Prime Minister was the symbol of the repression they had suffered. For the Gazans, it represented a contradiction. They would have had to explain to their own members - and even citizens under their rule - why the name of Fayyad could have not been agreed four years before.
Steaming from this opposition to Fayyad’s nominee, and faced with external pressures to keep the former World Bank officer in place, Abbas and Fatah have thus exploited his name as a leverage tool. Either to gain an upper share in the formation of the government or to provoke a stalemate in talks.
In order to overcome a complete stalemate and avoid facing a failure - for which the population would hold them accountable - the two movements have chosen to change the pattern of talks. Instead of proceeding sequentially from the “easiest” issue to the “hardest”, they are trying to move on to discuss about the formation of the National Leadership Framework, elections, security and so on. Putting, indeed, government at the end.
Ironically, Fayyad had to face opposition even from Fatah. While a “technocratic” wing is emerging - and it appreciates his policies - most of the secular movement’s leaders do not like him. He is often regarded as an heavy toll to pay for remaining in power. Pressure from Fatah to Abbas to proceed to a reshuffle of the cabinet - thus giving more Ministries to fatahwis - has been a continuous feature of those years since the emergency cabinet was first formed.
Fayyad is accused of gaining from being in power at the expenses of Fatah itself. Being nominally left out of the government, the secular party sees that it is only held responsible for the government’s failures, not for its successes. Thus, on one side the party sees him as an obstacle and a rival. On the other side, it does not understand why Fatah itself cannot advance the executive’s program and Fayyad’s plan without Fayyad himself.
The PM has also attracted opposition, since he is also acting as Finance Minister. In fact, compelled by international donors to reform the PA’s financial system in a more transparent way, he has been able to an high degree to centralize management of finances. As a consequence, he has succeeded in fighting corruption and enhance institutional accountability. In reality, what he has done was to channel the galaxy of sources of funding and assert its control over them. In this way, he has become the most similar thing to a new patron after Arafat’s death. Instead of really fighting corruption, he has proceeded to its institutionalization. Knowing that he needs allies within Fatah, he is now able to distribute rents to many leaders and heads of security forces. Hence, he balances the political weakness with patrimonial power. However, this centralized control over part of the neo-patrimonial system by a non-Fatah member, draws critics even from those who benefit from it.
The paradox is that this internal opposition to the Prime Minister prevents both Fatah and Fayyad from actually gaining from being in power. In order to succeed, indeed, the state-building plan needs politics. It needs political pressure and an organizational strength which Fayyad’s nearly 2% Third Way party cannot provide him. On the other side, Fatah could assure political backing, but due to its internal contradictions cannot do what the PM has planned to do and has already partially achieved.
Continuing Competition within a new framework
An apparent benevolent concession made by Meshaal to Fatah can illustrate how the agreement was actually a way to continue competition within a new framework. The leader in exile of Hamas, in fact, said the movement believed the proper strategy for ending the occupation is resistance. However, since Hamas understands the need to be flexible, it will concede Fatah and Abbas another year for negotiations.
What should actually appear as a benevolent step made toward the formation of a national unity government - since it temporarily solves the issue of which policy it has to be adopted by an interim cabinet - is in reality a jump forward in the competition between the two rival fields. Hamas thinks that Abbas’ policy will ultimately fail, so that it can wait for that moment to take the spoils. Whether the September bid will be successful, on the contrary, the Islamic Movement can at least limit the losses. Bandwagoning, Hamas could at least claim that its pragmatism and flexibility have ultimately contributed to the diplomatic move, as much as its resistance strategy did in liberating Gaza.
However, progresses in the reconciliation process have ultimately failed. As much as the regional factors in April convinced the two factions of the mutual utility of signing the deal, their evolution have impacted the implementation of the agreement.
Fatah is somehow reassured on Egypt. The new cabinet has already showed that despite early activism, much as changed in order to remain the same. Cairo has moderated its plans, it has found a new understanding with Washington and it has retreated in its opening toward Hamas. What the interim government is more concerned about, are relations with Israel and keeping the Sinai quiet.
Moreover, Abbas has finally launched its September’s UN bid. Thanks to the attention brought back by this diplomatic move, Fatah and the PA’s President have increased their diplomatic status. In the optic of achieving the widest support, some Fatah leaders view reconciliation as a burden, rather than as an asset.
In the end, external blessing for the reconciliation has not arrived. As said a US green light is essential, as it would mean continuous support for Fatah in its relations with Israel and an acceptance of Hamas’ future right to rule democratically. Abbas, in April, acted on reconciliation without a previous understanding with Washington. As the State Department was coping with the Arab Spring and the formulation of a new foreign policy that would balance American interests and values, Abu Mazen did not expect a firm opposition. On the contrary, the Obama administration made soon clear that it did not accept an agreement where Hamas was to participate in the government.
The announcement of the reconciliation deal eroded Ramallah-Washington relations. The Americans are already angry at the Palestinians because the UN bid is making them increasingly nervous and would expose them to a veto. Pressure from the Administration had already mounted on the PA to stop such plans, as well as threats of cutting funds and aid provided through USAID.
What Abbas fears and feared, thus, was that the formation of a unity government would have definitely damaged relations with Washington. Losing the US does not mean only losing the main financial supporter and the main sponsor of Fatah’s function as bulwark against Islamism. Losing the US, ultimately means losing Israel as well.
While Congress legislation, in the event of a National Unity government that includes Hamas, will put severe limits on the State Department and on channeling of funds for the PA, the Administration can still be flexible in its support. However, an Obama disengagement from Fatah and the PA would imply that Israel will not be compelled to meet its requirements. That is, there would be no pressure on Tel Aviv to limit the expansion of settlements, plans for East Jerusalem and most of all transfer of tax revenues. It would mean receding to a situation far worse than that in 2006.
Therefore, both movements are back to square one. They are both waiting new developments and do not feel compelled to achieve any progress in reconciliation. Officially, talks are proceeding. But they are more a way of showing to the Palestinian people that they are working on the file, so as to defuse pressure.
The Presidential term was extended for a year due to an “emergency situation”. However, even the additional period has expired.
The Egyptian Reconciliation Document was signed in October 2009 only by Fatah, as Hamas refused to sign it although it agreed on the general content. The Islamic Movement had advanced some observations and reserves that were not included by the Egyptians and not agreed by Fatah. It claimed that the final version of the document did not reflect fully previous discussions. The secular faction, however, signed the document without agreeing on it. They did so only because they were advised that Hamas would have not do it. In the so-called “Palestinian Papers” leaked by Al Jazeera, talking to Marc Otte, the EU Representative for the Middle East Peace Process on the 12th of October 2009, Saeb Erekat states that “Egyptians want Hamas and Fatah not to sign the unity deal, so that they can be off the hook”. Talking to George Mitchell, the US envoy to the Middle East, on the 20th of October 2009 he adds: “[The Egyptians] sent us the document: take it or leave it. So AM [Abu Mazen, ndr] signed it. Following Goldstone we could not say no. […]We knew Hamas would not come. So we said whatever is in the paper, here it is. Past midnight, it is off the table”. The Papers are available at the address http://www.ajtransparency.com/en/document/4868 and http://www.ajtransparency.com/en/document/4905
The National Reconciliation Deal announced on the 27th of April 2011 and signed in Cairo on the 4th of May, included the previous version of the Document signed by Fatah in Cairo, the reserves advanced by Hamas, an additional five points and unwritten, in-formal understandings, some of which undo provisions of the signed agreements.
PCPSR poll, December 2010.
From the interviews it emerged that most of the Fatah members believed Hamas’ rule in Gaza was too weak to survive and that it would have soon collapsed. According to a Revolutionary Council member, within the CC the position was majoritarian and Abbas was convinced about it as well.
On January 31 2011 the PA had announced municipal and legislative elections to be organized in the summer. The announcement followed a ruling by the Palestinian Supreme Court of Justice, which had condemned the PA for delaying elections scheduled in June 2010.
Although legislation passed by Congress forbids economical assistance to the PA if Hamas participates in its government. See Myers, S. L. (2009) “Reconciliation Deal by Rival Factions Forces U.S. to Reconsider Aid to Palestinians”, The New York Times, April, 27 2011 available at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/04/28/world/middleeast/28policy.html?_r=1; Greenburg, D. Smith, D. (2011) “Aiding Friends and Foes Alike in Palestine”, Foreign Affairs, June 2011
See paragraph 4.2. on incentives to Hamas to compete in elections.
Aside from security, which remains the main problem. Interview of the author with Fatah Revolutionary Council member, Hebron.
The Settlement Freeze, first proposed by the Obama Administration, was one of the conditions posed by Fatah’s Sixth Conference for a new round of negotiations. See The Economist (2010) “A costly Thaw”, September 27 2010, available at http://www.economist.com/blogs/newsbook/2010/09/settlement_freeze; The Economist (2010) “Keep on Fudging”, September, 23 2010, available at http://www.economist.com/node/17095339; Dunne, M. [interview with] (2010) “The Mideast Moratorium Mess”, Council on Foreign Relations Online, October 13 2010, available at http://www.cfr.org/israel/mideast-moratorium-mess/p23143
This might have been also one of the causes behind the failure of Egyptian sponsored reconciliation talks in 2009. See Issacharoff, A. Ravid, B. (2009) “US to Egypt: Fatah Hamas deal undermines Israel-PA talks”, Haaretz, October, 13 2009 http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/u-s-to-egypt-fatah-hamas-deal-undermines-israel-pa-talks-1.6197
Interview of the author with Preventive Security Officer, Ramallah
Today those are the same functions exercised by, after a reform, more than 6 forces. For example, the Preventive Security, the Military Intelligence Force and the General Intelligence force carry out intelligence work, thus leading to contrasts, poor performances and poor control. Interview of the author with Preventive Security Officer, Ramallah.
Following the Egyptian revolution of Tahrir Square, Mubarak resigned and a provisional executive rules the country until new elections are held.
ICG (2011c) “Plus ça Change…” Middle East Report n. 110, International Crisis Group, July 2011;
See for example his support to Saddam Hussein during the Gulf War, continuous interfering in the other countries’ internal affairs, financial and economic losses of “PLO’s investments”.
The motivations for Egypt’s implementation of the blockade are far more complicated. To US and Fatah pressures, it must be added also a consideration on the consequences of an opening of the Rafah Gate. Cairo feared and fears that a normalization on its border with Gaza would decrease international pressures on Israel to ease its blockade.
According to a Wikileaks cable, Suleiman had promised Israel of preventing Hamas’ victory in the 2006 elections. See Telegraph (2011) “WikiLeaks: Israel’s secret hotline to the man tipped to replace Mubarak”, The Telegraph, February 7 2011, available at http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/wikileaks/8309792/WikiLeaks-Israels-secret-hotline-to-the-man-tipped-to-replace-Mubarak.html
Rumors of plans to leave Damascus and relocate the Political Bureau elsewhere have been spread by the London based newspaper al-Hayat. Meshaal is effectively travelling often to the Emirate, but it seems he is still based in Syria. See Haaretz (2011) “Report: Hamas leadership to relocate from Syria to Qatar”, Haaretz, April, 30 2011 http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/report-hamas-leadership-to-relocate-from-syria-to-qatar-1.358956; Haaretz (2011) “Hamas denies reports it plans to relocate leadership from Syria to Qatar”, Haaretz, April, 30 2011 http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/hamas-denies-reports-it-plans-to-relocate-leadership-from-syria-to-qatar-1.358963;
Jerusalem Post (2011) “Analysis: Assad puts Hamas in corner over Syrian assault”, Jerusalem Post, August, 18 2011 http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=234167
Reuters (2011) “Foreign funds for Hamas hit by Syria unrest-diplomats”, Reuters, August, 20 2011 http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/08/21/uk-palestinians-hamas-finance-idUSTRE77K19120110821;
See The Economist (2011) “A long way to go”, June, 9 2011 http://www.economist.com/node/18806169; ICG (2011);
Cheslow, D. (2011) “Why Palestinians remain so quiet as Egyptians loudly rail against Mubarak”, Christian Science Monitor, February, 2 2011 http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Middle-East/2011/0202/Why-Palestinians-remain-so-quiet-as-Egyptians-loudly-rail-against-Mubarak
Haaretz (2011) “Hamas worried upheaval in Arab world will spill into Gaza”, Haaretz, February, 2 2011 http://www.haaretz.com/news/international/hamas-worried-upheaval-in-arab-world-will-spill-into-gaza-1.340690; Haaretz (2011) “Hamas allows protest against Mubarak in Gaza”, Haaretz, February, 4 2011 http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/hamas-allows-protest-against-mubarak-in-gaza-1.341130
The Guardian (2011) “Young Palestinians call for protests on 15 March”, The Guardian, February, 24 2011 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/feb/24/palestinian-young-people-protests
See for example CBN News (2011) “Fatah Officials To Abbas: Fire Fayyad”, CBN News, March 4, 2011 available at http://www.cbn.com/cbnnews/insideisrael/2011/March/Fatah-Officials-to-Abbas-Fire-Fayyad/
Interview of the author with Palestinian political analysts, Ramallah; Interview of the author with Professor Giacaman; Interview of the author with Professor Helga Baumgarten, Bir Zeit;
For example, Fayyad is often credited for imposing order, security and enforcing law. However, the PA - and Fatah - is blamed for violations of human rights, autocratic policies, crack down on the oppositions.
World Bank (2011b) “Improving Governance and Fighting Corruption”, Governance Report West Bank and Gaza, May 2011
Interview of the author with Walid Salem, Jerusalem
Informal talk with ICG analyst, Jerusalem, 14th July 2011
Greenburg, D. Smith, D. (2011);