(Author of Hamas – Unwritten Chapters)
The recent revelations made jointly by Al-Jazeera TV Channel and the Guardian newspaper have vindicated my long held position of opposition to any reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. My position was initially premised upon the fact that the Egyptian-mediated reconciliation efforts were aimed primarily at subjugating Hamas. This subjugation strategy had a long history stretching back to the early 1990s. The latter part of this history is more interesting because it manifested itself in the form of open warfare against Hamas, not just by the Israelis and their US backers but also by a number of Arab regimes as well.
The unanticipated success of the movement in the January 2006 legislative elections left the parties concerned with the Palestinian question perplexed; the objective of the Palestinian democratic process was, supposedly, to contain Hamas, which is why it was pushed by the Israelis and their allies. It was never intended to have to hand over the reins of power to the Islamic Resistance Movement. When these parties recovered from the shock of the massive win by Hamas, their immediate reaction was to set out certain conditions to be fulfilled if Hamas was to qualify for membership of the “political players club”. These became known as the Quartet conditions.
The USA, the UN, the EU and the Russian Federation demanded the following from Hamas before there could be any dealings with the newly-elected government: first, recognition of Israel’s right to exist; second, disarm and renounce violence; and third, accept all agreements thus far signed between the PLO and Israel. Fatah, the controller of both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the PLO, was so bitter at the loss of the election that it wholeheartedly joined the campaign aimed at proving that unless Hamas cooperated with the “international community” it would never be able to run a viable administration. One of the commonest pretexts was that international donors would simply refrain from supporting a Palestinian Authority headed by Hamas unless Hamas accepted the aforementioned conditions.
When Hamas had no choice but to form a cabinet composed exclusively of its own members, because none of the other factions would agree to join in, a series of strikes in the education and health service sectors were orchestrated by Fatah loyalists. The objective was to paralyse the public sector and prove Hamas to be a failure in government. Together with a US-led global system of sanctions against Hamas, the civil action was supposed to incite the public to rise against Hamas.
When none of this worked a series of attacks were carried out throughout the summer of 2006 with the aim of provoking a civil war inside the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; that too did not work. The main reason for the failure of the plot was the highly disciplined self-restraint observed by Hamas members and supporters. Throughout those difficult months, Fatah leaders maintained that the only way out of the predicament arising from Hamas’s electoral success was the acceptance by Hamas of the will of the international community.
Local and regional initiatives seemed to succeed at one stage in bringing the two sides together, but this was not without a major compromise on the part of Hamas which did a considerable amount of damage to its reputation. In what became known as the “prisoners document” and later on as “the national accord document”, Hamas agreed to a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders and agreed to allow Mahmoud Abbas, as PLO Chairman, to pursue a negotiated deal with Israel that would eventually be put to a referendum prior to approval. This concession was, from then on, seized upon by Fatah spokespersons to claim that Hamas had agreed to recognize Israel and that therefore the two sides were equal. Even that was not enough and soon tension between the two sides led to sporadic clashes prompting the Syrians and the Saudis to intervene.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia invited both sides to Makkah for talks that led to what became known as the Makkah Agreement, which in turn paved the way for the formation of a Palestinian national unity government.
It was clear from day one that Abbas’s men had no intention of allowing this formula to work. The United States was not happy with the agreement and decided to invest heavily in undermining it. The inability to enforce the law was a major handicap of that national unity government. Various formations of security agencies and armed militias created since the Palestinian Authority was set up in 1994 continued to be controlled and run by Fatah warlords who were funded and armed by the United States and a number of its Arab allies. Hamas had no choice but to start building its own security apparatus. Consequently, confrontations and clashes between the two sides became more frequent and bloodier.
A plan devised by the Americans and supervised by their military envoy General Keith Dayton was intended to enable Fatah, which had lost to Hamas in the democratic arena, to defeat Hamas militarily. The 14th of June 2007 saw the exact opposite happen; Hamas won in the battlefield too. It took only a few hours for the entire Fatah military set-up, which the Americans invested so much in, to collapse completely. Fatah recruits surrendered after their commanders fled from the Gaza Strip via Egypt and Israel.
Although Hamas was accused of a coup against the Palestinian authority, the truth is that Hamas pre-empted a coup that was being plotted against the national unity government by the United States, Fatah and some of the Arab states.
Immediately, sanctions against Hamas were reinforced and the siege on Gaza tightened. For months, the people of Gaza were turned into prisoners under the mercy of Egypt and Israel who sealed all borders. The siege was used as a means of pressuring Hamas to accept a reconciliation formula designed by Fatah and the Egyptians. On the diplomatic level Saudi Arabia led an effort to isolate Hamas under the pretext that its leaders betrayed the Saudi King who brokered the Makkah Agreement. The King simply refused to listen to the Hamas side of the story having completely sided with Abbas, who convinced him that the whole Hamas plot was backed by Iran. Feeling the effects of the siege and wanting to be free from sanctions, Hamas agreed to talk. Egypt mediated between Fatah and Hamas in just the same way as the USA mediated between Israel and the PLO; as anything but an honest broker.
No progress was possible because the United States insisted all along that reconciliation would be blessed only if Hamas accepted the Quartet conditions. The irony is that it was the Fatah team that conveyed this message whenever the two sides met in Cairo.
Throughout the period when reconciliation sessions were being held, Hamas was being targeted in the West Bank by both Israel and the security services belonging to the Palestinian Authority. The movement was declared illegal. Hundreds of Hamas members and supporters were hunted down and killed or detained, and almost all its offices and civil society institutions identified with its members were closed. Whenever the Hamas delegates at the reconciliation talks raised this and demanded an end to the crackdown their Fatah counterparts would tell them that they had no authority to stop it. They maintained that it was Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (more or less appointed by America) who was implementing a plan agreed with the US and Israel. They would also insist that unless Hamas first agreed to the demands of the international community the siege imposed on Gaza would remain in place and the crackdown in the West Bank would continue.
It was then that Israel volunteered to resolve the problem and relieve all parties of their burden by invading Gaza and destroying Hamas, but that failed as well. Now we know for sure what had been suspected for some time; that Egypt and the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah collaborated with Israel to crush Hamas and restore Abbas’s authority in Gaza.
The siege on Gaza and the system of sanctions imposed on Hamas worldwide left it with no choice but to respond to renewed calls for reconciliation talks in order to end the rift among the Palestinians and relieve the people of Gaza from their plight. However, nothing seemed to change. Hamas was expected to make all the concessions while the other side would be exempted from the need to reciprocate. The Egyptian-sponsored effort would have resulted in Fatah returning to Gaza while Hamas would still be kept out of the West Bank. It is no secret that some Hamas officials were tempted by the offer because of concern over the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip. Yet pressure from the grassroots, especially in light of the scandalous conduct of the Palestinian Authority, saved Hamas from another trap. The PA attempt to delay discussion of the UN Goldstone Report played a significant part in this.
Indeed, it looks as if “reconciliation” is nothing but a trap aimed at subjugating Hamas. The price of lifting the siege on Gaza and ending the sanctions against Hamas is too high to accept; it would amount to capitulation. As things stand today, Hamas and Fatah share very little in common. Fatah was transformed by the Oslo Accords from a national liberation movement into an agency of collaborators serving Israel. Reconciliation is intended to do the same thing to Hamas, but Hamas has, so far, resisted well. Should it deviate, God forbid, the Palestinian people will have no choice but to produce a new movement that is loyal to the Palestinian dream of a free and independent state, which the Fatah leadership has, since Oslo, sought to kill.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.