Are Hamas-Fatah unity talks doomed to failure?

Anto restart stalled reconciliation agreements to end the decade-long rivalry between Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction and the Hamas terrorist group that rules the coastal enclave.

Fatah and Hamas have been at loggerheads since the latter evicted Fatah officials from the Strip and seized political control of it in 2007. Since then, both sides have repeatedly tried to forge a unity deal, succeeding once, but then failing to implement the agreement.

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In October of last year, Egypt successfully brokered a deal between the two rivals, amounting to a plan which would have returned Gaza to the PA’s control. Both sides, however, failed to implement it. And analysts believe that such failure to reach a political agreement to the Palestinian divide is a crucial factor behind the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza.

By offering to mediate, Egypt is trying to prevent relations between Hamas and Fatah from deteriorating further. Cairo also hopes to prevent another round of hostilities between Hamas and Israel. Toward that end, Egyptian negotiators have been trying to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, while simultaneously working on a Palestinian unity agreement.

For the last few months, calm has largely prevailed along the Israel-Gaza border, though talks over a cease-fire agreement have stalled. Recently, there are signs that unrest is beginning to pick again. Over the weekend, thousands of Gazans converged along the security fence as part of the Hamas-sponsored weekly “March of Return” protests.

During last weekend’s protest, the Israeli army struck a cell that was preparing to launch incendiary objects into southern Israel, killing a 25-year-old Palestinian man and wounding scores of others.

Just last week, Egyptian security officials met with high-ranking Fatah members in Cairo to discuss prospects for ending the rift with Hamas. They also discussed alleviating the restrictions that both Israel and Egypt have put in place to limit the flow of people and certain goods in and out of the enclave.

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The PA is also seeking to limit fuel and other supplies from entering into the Strip as a pressure tactic to push Hamas into relinquishing its political control. Abbas has already encouraged Israel to limit the supply of electricity to the Strip and has threatened to impose more sanctions.

Abbas has also maintained that only the PA has the authority to negotiate peace with Israel. He is also demanding that before the PA can resume power in the Strip, Hamas must disarm.

For its part, Israel contends that its long-running blockade of the Strip is vital to preventing Hamas and other terrorist groups operating in the enclave from gaining a military advantage in future conflicts with the Israeli army. 

As for the current round of talks in Gaza, analysts believe they have little chance of moving forward, mainly due to the gap between the PA’s demands and what the Islamist group is willing to concede.

“It seems that they are not going to succeed because the gap between the positions of the two sides is too wide,” Brig. Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom, a senior research associate at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, told The Media Line.

“Abbas is not willing to return to and take control of Gaza unless all the authorities will be delivered to the PA, including the security authority, which Hamas is not willing to give up because it would mean giving up their military force.”

Brom speculated that even if an agreement is reached on paper, it is unlikely to be implemented and would likely break down quickly. In turn, this could spill over into a wider conflict with Israel.

“I think in this case pessimism is justified,” he added. “If Abbas will continue his policy of denying the Gaza Strip the finances it needs for things like electricity, water, medical services, then we’ll be closer to a real explosion in the [Palestinian enclave], which will mean an escalation between Gaza and Israel, because Israel is a convenient target.”

Kobi Marom, a Hamas expert and researcher at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, told The Media Line that the gaps between Fatah and Hamas are simply too wide.

“Abbas wants to be in charge of everything, including the military capabilities of Hamas in Gaza, which for them is unacceptable,” Marom said.

He explained that while Israel views Abbas and the PA as viable negotiating partners—and not Hamas—he did not believe the current Egypt-mediated talks would succeed. Like Brom, he argued that an escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas would perhaps become inevitable, a situation that could be avoided if the former were to apply military pressure on the Islamist group.

“In any circumstances, a war of attrition is not good for Israel,” Marom stated. “Israel needs a quiet situation and should put more military pressure on Hamas, forcing them to compromise and give more options to the PA in Gaza.”

Maya Margit contributed to this report.

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