By Danielle Bella Ellison
Leaders of both Fatah and Hamas claim that the formation of a united Palestinian government will greatly benefit the Palestinian people. However, in light of the significant internal barriers to such an arrangement and, perhaps even more importantly, the projected negative reaction of the rest of the world, it is quite possible that a government that includes Hamas could be quite detrimental to the situation of the Palestinian people.
On February 6 Fatah leader and President of the Palestinian National Authority (PA) Mahmoud Abbas signed an agreement with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Doha, Qatar. What is being called the Doha Declaration or Doha Agreement stipulated that Abbas would lead a new Fatah-Hamas unity caretaker cabinet. Abbas will be the interim Prime Minister of the Palestinian unity government that, according to the agreement, should be comprised of technocrats not affiliated with either Fatah or Hamas. This government is charged with the tasks of beginning to institute policies for Gaza’s rehabilitation and setting the stage for general Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections. Although no date has yet been set for the elections, they are projected to be some time this year. Following a meeting in Cairo on February 18, the unity government is to be announced.
Many would look at this reconciliation agreement as an excellent and long sought-after breakthrough for the rival factions. Since Hamas’ violent takeover of Gaza in 2007, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Fatah-controlled West Bank have been severely divided. Reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas and could lead to political unification of the two main Palestinian territories. Such political unification and centralization has the potential to lead to many institutional and economic benefits for the Palestinian people living in those areas. In addition, national unity is a powerful and important feeling that could in itself improve the lives of Palestinians.
Both Fatah and Hamas leaders have expressed strong commitment to the Doha Agreement. As Abbas said following the signing, the Declaration “serves the interests of the Palestinian people and Arab nation.” Nevertheless, the rifts between the leaders of each faction potentially pose significant barriers to the actual implementation of the reconciliation agreement. A number of Hamas leaders in Gaza have come out as opposed to the replacement of current PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad with Mahmoud Abbas. They state that Abbas’ serving as both President and Prime Minister of the government is a violation of Palestinian Authority Basic Law and other legal agreements. Furthermore, Gaza-based Hamas leaders, notably Ismail Haniyah who is in fact the other disputed Prime Minister of the PA, as well as Mahmoud al-Zahar who is a co-founder of Hamas, are protesting the legitimacy of the Doha Agreement. They claim that Khaled Meshal, a key Hamas leader who is however currently in exile, does not have the authority to make such a pact. This dispute brings up another key barrier in the political unification of the Palestinians: the arguable lack of proper authority of either Fatah in the West Bank or Hamas in Gaza. Without true authority or legitimacy existing, an agreement signed by Fatah and Hamas leaders could potentially have no real effect on the ground for the Palestinian people, and could in fact cause confusion and conflict.
Nevertheless, even if Fatah and Hamas manage to successfully agree on the terms of a new Palestinian unity government, and even if such a government would successfully begin to be implemented on the ground, this development could have a negative impact on Palestinians. Hamas has been deemed by the West and the Quartet on the Middle East (the U.S., Russia, the EU, and the UN) as a terrorist organization. Hamas has refused the Quartet’s mandates to renounce violence, recognize Israel, and acknowledge existing Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements. The Israeli Foreign Ministry has stated that Israel cannot negotiate for peace with an unreformed Hamas that does not recognize Israel’s existence and refuses to renounce terrorism and violence. Therefore, a Palestinian unity government including Hamas would likely lead to a complete standstill in the already floundering Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. This does not seem to be a problem for Hamas, and in fact numerous Hamas officials have explained that a key goal behind the reconciliation agreement is to be more united and “free for confronting the enemy,” as Mashaal said. However, putting all the Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza under a political authority opposed to seeking peace with Israel is detrimental to the Palestinian people on multiple levels. First, lack of peace with Israel in itself is detrimental to the daily lives of Palestinians. Violence between Hamas militants in Gaza and the Israeli Defense Forces has been ongoing, disrupting citizens’ lives on a daily basis. The reconciliation between the factions could lead to a Hamas presence in Gaza that could bring even more intense such violence to the West Bank as well. Moreover, the PA in the West Bank is currently supported both financially and militarily by Israel and various Western countries, notably the Untied States. A unification of Fatah and Hamas will very likely lead to a halting or withdrawal of aid, a development that would have severe negative impacts on Palestinians.
While political unification is generally a positive development for a people, in the case of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas it may be detrimental. The Palestinians in the West Bank in particular must decide if it is truly wise to bring into their government a terrorist organization that will impede peace talks with Israel and likely halt crucial economic and military aid to the Palestinian people.
Danielle Bella Ellison ’15 is in Davenport College. She is a Globalist Notebook Beat Blogger on the Middle East. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.