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A Hamas-Fatah deal can't square this circle

November 1, 2017 at 11:10 am

Leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar (5th L) gathers with Palestinians groups to evaluate the reconciliation deal, signed between Hamas and Fatah, in Gaza City, Gaza on 28 September 2017 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

Palestinian political factions Hamas and Fatah have signed another unity deal. Hopes have, once again, been expressed that the deal brokered by Egypt could end the political impasse and restore some sense of national unity between the two major movements. It has also been said that the deal could help to end the crippling Israeli-Egyptian siege on the Gaza Strip, which is now more than a decade old.

In all of the media coverage of the deal, though, it is generally forgotten that, as my colleague at The Electronic Intifada Omar Karmi put it, there have been four previous such deals, “all of which eventually dissipated in mutual recriminations.”

Although this deal appears to have more detail than previous agreements, the fundamental disparity between Hamas and Fatah remains a circle that cannot be squared. Hamas increasingly faces a choice about whether it wants to continue as the main party of legitimate armed resistance to Israel, or to follow Fatah down the route of co-optation and servility to Israel and the American empire, the path of a puppet regime.

As I have put it in the past, the Palestinian Authority which Fatah gave birth to is neither genuinely Palestinian, nor is it in any way authoritative. It is Palestinian in name only; run by Palestinian figureheads, its agenda is entirely Israeli, helping to entrench Israel’s military occupation. What’s more, it has no genuine authority, because Israeli troops can enter the nominally PA-controlled enclaves within the West Bank at a whim, at any time and for any purpose. The only limits on these aggressive military movements are those imposed on them by Palestinian popular resistance.

Read: ‘Egypt’s role in Palestinian reconciliation worrying Israel’

Indeed, the PA’s armed police have standing orders to put their weapons down and/or exit the area when Israeli troops arrive. This so-called “security coordination” is the central reason for the existence of the PA. It is not an expression of Palestinian popular will as is supposed; poll after poll shows that its leader Mahmoud Abbas, whose electoral mandate as “president” expired in 2009, is deeply unpopular with the Palestinian people within the occupied territories, and a large majority want him to step down.

The only time that the PA shows any sort of authority in the West Bank is when it is engaging in its supposedly “sacred” duty of using its armed forces to work alongside Israel’s in preventing Palestinian resistance of any kind, either armed or entirely peaceful.

Indeed, as time goes by, it seems that the PA is acting in an increasingly authoritarian and dictatorial manner. It now locks up Palestinians for “crimes” that include criticising the PA on Facebook and speaking out in the press against this deeply unpopular policy of “security coordination”. This has long been the dynamic of the PA, which owes its very existence to Israel. It was a contradiction which even Yasser Arafat had to grapple with.

Read: The backdrop of Palestinian reconciliation

For all these reasons, Hamas rejected the PA when it was created, and refused to participate in its elections, arguing that the regime was an outcome of the unjust Oslo Accords, and as such nothing good could come from it. They relaxed this position, at first by running in local elections, and then, in 2006, by taking part in the national elections to run the PA “government” itself.

Hamas won with a landslide, and should have been given a chance to rule, but the US, Israel, the EU and Fatah refused to recognise the results of what independent observers declared to be a free and fair election. The Islamic movement won a lot of respect at the time, support which stretched beyond its Islamist constituency across wider sectors of Palestinian society, mainly because the movement defined itself first and foremost as a resistance movement, acting in physical defence of the Palestinian population against Israel’s frequent military onslaughts.

Action by the armed wing of Hamas — the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades — during the most recent Israeli war against Gaza in 2014, for example, was targeted precisely against the Israel Defence Forces, which is why Israeli casualties in that war were overwhelmingly military personnel. In stark contrast, the Israelis, as is their usual strategy, bombed anything that moved and much that didn’t; as such those Palestinians killed were overwhelming civilians. According to a 2015 UN report, 2,251 Palestinians were killed in the 50-day Israeli offensive, including 1,462 civilians, among them 551 children. Six civilians died in Israel, and more than 60 Israeli soldiers were killed while fighting against the Palestinian resistance.


Al-Qassam Brigades used a tactic common to resistance fighters throughout history, a network of defensive tunnels in which they could elude the enemy. This tunnel network was also used to burrow into Israeli military bases on or near the boundary line with Gaza, to execute daring attacks against the invading soldiers. In many cases, these tunnels also came near to Israeli towns where civilians lived, but Hamas did not attack them deliberately, a telling difference between the strategies of the two sides, and a point that the Brigades’ commander, Muhammad Deif, emphasised during the war.

Read: Reconciliation is the least that can be achieved

For all these reasons and more, Hamas’ resistance to Israeli aggression is the main factor behind its political legitimacy in Palestinian society. The issue of the weapons belonging to Al-Qassam Brigades, and other Palestinian resistance factions in Gaza, has not been addressed directly by this new Hamas-Fatah deal, although Abbas recently claimed that Hamas would now have to lay down its arms, but that seems highly unlikely. The new Fatah troops set to be posted to Gaza at the border crossings with Egypt and Israel look like a cosmetic measure.

What Abbas’s PA has consistently failed to address is the basic need to end Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. As former advisor to the PLO Diana Buttu has put it, ending Israeli occupation is “of paramount importance, rather than keeping afloat a deeply flawed PA that only seeks to collaborate with Israel and that is increasingly repressive of any dissent.” Only when the focus is shifted to liberation and not ruling, she added, can genuine unity begin to take place. It is a circle that Hamas-Fatah deals in the prevailing context simply cannot square.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.