As Hamas and Fatah sign a peace agreement, what hope for the ever elusive peace with Israel?
On 23 April 2014, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas signed a peace pact; unfortunately, it was not with Israeli leadership. The new peace pact is with Abbas’ West Bank-based Fatah rival, Gaza Strip-based Hamas leader, Mr. Khaled Mashal, forming a unity government within the next five weeks before holding general elections in six months’ time in the Palestinian territories. The following day, news of the Fatah-Hamas agreement angered Israel to the point of Israeli officials announcing that the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry-led Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations had been officially ‘suspended’ and sanctions may be forthcoming as a result of Abbas’ actions, shortly before the 29 April negotiating deadline. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu took to the global airwaves, appearing before Western reporters, to blast President Abbas’ alliance with “a terrorist organisation that calls for the destruction of Israel”. In less colorful terms, Hamas, is also listed as a terrorists group by Israel’s allies, the United States and European Union; however, the unity government’s policies will be complicit with the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia’s Middle East Quartet doctrine by recognizing Israel and renouncing violence according to senior Fatah party officials. Party sources further press that President Abbas will continue to serve as the negotiating authority in the peace process with Israel in light of Wednesday’s unity government announcement. Nevertheless, Israel’s top leadership believe that Abbas’ Fatah party has made a mistake in entering into an agreement with Hamas that could potentially hurt its own compatriots, which begs the question; “are the politics of peace more important than peace”?
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been ongoing for almost 80 years, if one references the 1936-39 Arab revolt in historic Palestine as the official start of the conflict. This multigenerational conflict has taken the lives of countless Israelis and Palestinians, robbing mothers of children, children of mothers, fathers of families, and families of fathers. Modern day Palestine, officially recognized as the Palestinian territories, by Israel’s closest ally, the United States, engenders the world’s last struggle for self-determination. Similar to today, both Israeli and Palestinian leaders from years past have bared the burden of brokering peace whilst managing politics in their respective domains. Israel’s current position of shock and anger in response to the Palestinian Authority’s agreement with Hamas is quizzical considering less than two years ago in November 2012, Israel and Hamas signed a Muslim Brotherhood ruling Egyptian brokered ceasefire accord. Although Israel was clearly winning in the rocket-exchanging dispute with Gaza, Israeli leadership had the wisdom to do what was best for its people and their security. The same case can be made for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to form a unity government with Hamas. Although the Palestinian Authority is recognized and backed by the West, Abbas and his fellow Fatah party members, foresee the domestic benefits of forming such an alliance with their political rivals to temper local unrest following a seven year rift between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The Fatah-Hamas fall-out weakened Abbas’ political authority in the territories, and may have motivated him to attempt a second bid for Palestinian statehood during the 2012 United Nations general assembly to quiet domestic challenges to his political regime.
During the November 2012 Pillar of Defense, Abbas was a political lame-duck. He neither had the administrative authority nor the political capital to broker a cease fire between Israel and Gaza. A unity government seems to be the surest way to salvage Abbas’ political relevancy territorially as well as globally moving forward in peace negotiations with Israel. Israel and the United States may chafe at the prospect of a Fatah-Hamas led government, but given Hamas’ majority rule on the ground in the Palestinian territories as a result of the 2006 elections, a peace pact between Israel and the Palestinians without the support of Hamas seems counterproductive. Even the European Union can see the strategic benefits of a Fatah-Hamas led government to the peace process. On the 27 April 2014, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the European Commission Catherine Ashton issued a statement on the latest developments in the Middle East Peace Process reiterating EU support of intra-Palestinian reconciliation. In the statement she also highlighted a Fatah-Hamas led government operating on the principles of the Quartet as “an important element for the unity of a future Palestinian state and for reaching a two-state solution and a lasting peace”. Unfortunately, the European Union’s statement in support of a Palestinian unity government on the eve of the holiday commiserating Holocaust victims has received the ire of Israeli politicians including Israel’s Housing Minister Uri Ariel who charges, “European support for the deal will encourage Hamas terror, and will ensure that Europe loses its moral authority as a party that can help solve the conflict”.