Hamas-Fatah Unity: A Blow to Peace

Jerusalem, Nov. 24 - After months of uncertainty surrounding a proposed unity government consisting of the terrorist group Hamas and the more moderate Palestinian movement Fatah, a deal is in the works to unite the two groups in a transitional government that will hold elections in 2012.

The few details that have been reported confirm the worries of the international community: pragmatic Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad, whose efforts to cut out corruption and build functioning institutions have contributed to growth in the West Bank economy, will be forced to step down. The new Palestinian unity administration will be based in Hamas-controlled Gaza, and elections are supposed to take place by May 2012. Palestinian authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas Political Bureau Head Khaled Mashaal began a round of talks Nov. 24 in Cairo to finalize the deal, and Abbas says he will step down after the elections.

The rift that has long divided religious, Islamic Hamas and predominantly secular Fatah reached a crisis point in January 2006, when Hamas defeated the long-dominant Fatah in legislative elections in Gaza that western observers declared largely free and fair. However, Hamas is listed as a terrorist organization by both the European Union and the United States because of its long-standing program to destroy Israel and its  long history of terrorist attacks.

As Western powers cut off aid to the new Hamas administration, Fatah and other Palestinian factions refused to participate in a ruling coalition. By late 2006, armed clashes in Gaza and the West Bank threatened to lead to a Palestinian civil war. After several failed attempts at ceasefires and reconciliation deals, a short and bloody military coup saw Hamas drive the remaining Fatah elements out of Gaza and seize sole control. Since then, it has not allowed any political opposition to organize.

In the past five years Hamas and other terrorist groups operating in Gaza have fired thousands of rockets at Israeli civilians. These attacks diminished but did not end after Israel launched Operation Cast Lead in late 2008 to suppress the fire. Hamas and its allies have acquired more powerful weapons and can now threaten over one million Israeli civilians living as far as 30 miles away in cities like Beersheba and Ashdod that were previously out of their range.

Palestinian reconciliation efforts mediated by Egypt failed in the spring of 2009. However last May, a unity deal that promised elections within a year was finally signed between Hamas’ Mashaal and Fatah’s Abbas. Yet since then, attempts to implement the pact failed to produce an agreement until early this month.

The international community has long backed the Abbas- and  Fayyad-led Palestinian Authority which has recognized Israel and engaged in sporadic peace talks while categorically condemning the terrorist activities of Hamas. For that reason, the prospect of Fatah embracing a terrorist group committed to the destruction of the Jewish state has raised alarms in western capitals.

Hamas policy includes the refusal to negotiate peace, and the Hamas charter clearly states that its goal is to use military means to replace Israel with an Islamic state. Therefore, a unity deal between Fatah and Hamas would most likely prevent the resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which is concurrently pressing ahead with its campaign for unilateral statehood through the United Nations.

As talks between Hamas and Fatah for a transitional government and likely elections conclude, this information packet, drawing on The Israel Project'’s extensive coverage of the events, summarizes the background and recent history of Fatah-Hamas relations.

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