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Fatah – Hamas Reconciliation?

 13 May 2011

By Yisrael Ne'eman

The Fatah-Hamas rapprochement announced in April is another attempt at unifying two major conflicting trends in the Arab/Muslim world. Fatah represents the national secular approach (anthrocentrism) to state building while Hamas as the Palestinian wing of the Muslim Brotherhood views themselves as Allah's emissaries on earth and the guardians of the Divinely established religious order (diocentrism) of Islam. While professing mutual respect for each other, Muslim Brotherhood ideologues such as Sayyed Qutb consider national loyalties akin to paganism and while the Hamas Covenant expresses a certain respect for Palestinian nationalism it insists on a transformation to a strictly Islamic nationalism as one's true identity. Fatah/PLO's Palestine National Charter speaks of the Palestinian Arab People including Christians. In reality Hamas has taken on a secondary Palestinian Arab identity while Fatah through the Palestinian Authority (PA) supports Islamic content within the envisioned future state as expressed through the Palestinian Constitution.

Fatah, the PLO and the PA failed in Palestinian state building under Yasir Arafat's dictatorial semi-military rule. Only in the aftermath of the Hamas capture of Gaza in 2007 did Pres. Mahmoud Abbas appoint Salam Fayyad as PM and begin to build a national and administrative state structure following a Western recipe for security and economic development. Hamas power represents the successful rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. Immediately after a declarative "coming to terms" the two sides found themselves on opposite ends of the spectrum when the Americans killed Osama bin Laden, Fatah gave praise while Hamas sharply condemned the US action and heaped praise on Al Qaeda's leader.

Commentators, whether on AlJazeera (in English) or on Israel TV are speculating that the present unity may be a result of Hamas weakness, particularly due to the recent Syrian turmoil since their external headquarters are in Damascus. This is a short term disability of little significance when compared to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt which will prove much more of an asset to them in the long run, provided the present transitional regime in Cairo allows for their further strengthening. Estimates vary widely but the Brotherhood is expected to poll close to half the votes in the upcoming September election. It appears that the present uneasy attempt at cooperation between the Islamists and the former secular, military backed regime may prove more permanent after the elections. For both, this is the best guarantee against their common enemy - a truly liberal open democratic society as advocated by the younger, secular and more educated Facebook and Twitter generation.

On the political front, the empowerment of the Islamic movement is the most significant result of what is called "The Arab Awakening" or "Arab Spring". Hamas, fully aware of such developments will certainly move their offices to Cairo if deemed to their advantage. As opposed to the Mubarak regime, General Tantawi & Co. have announced the impending full opening of the border between Gaza and Sinai. While Hamas and Fatah are taking cues from the Egyptian example they do differ in one major respect - each controls a specific territory, Hamas rules in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. Instead of a power sharing arrangement as in Egypt, Fatah and Hamas are in reality advocating a dual leadership to ensure they will receive international recognition for a Palestinian State.

The state will have two completely different cantons, Islamist in Gaza and Arab nationalist in the West Bank. The two can go through the motions of ruling one entity together but need not integrate as each has a territorial holding. Local leaders will determine everyday affairs. At the moment each side is guaranteeing the existence of its adversary provided the other side remains in its allotted territory. The integration of rule by Hamas and Fatah throughout all the Palestinian territories is unlikely as is a full election process allowing the Facebook/Twitter generation to participate and highlight their litany of complaints against both movements. Hamas and Fatah can cooperate, achieve statehood and avoid all major issues in the short term. Once the UN General Assembly vote is in, even without Western support the State of Palestine will be an internationally recognized entity. This is not the Security Council where the US or anyone else can cast a veto. The immediate objective is the solidification of a dual leadership accompanied by military dominance in each of the respective territories whereby neither can capture the other's canton. Such an arrangement could prove more durable than just a short term solution.

In the near future the two movements can be expected to work for an overall internal stability. Elections may be held in a year or so but a full Western style democratic process should not be expected, yet a certain democratic façade will be noticeable. At the moment Palestinians are focusing on establishing a state, not democracy. Upon achieving their goal Fatah and Hamas will be more capable of blocking Western interference in their affairs, together they will curtail demands for a full democratic system. A Fatah – Hamas clash in the foreseeable future should not be expected, both have too much to lose.

Remaining in power will be paramount for both while they use their new political – diplomatic tool of statehood to confront Israel. The Palestinian confrontation with Israel will certainly grab the spotlight away from any internal reforms, whether they be political, economic, social or of any other type.

(The next article will deal with Israeli policy in light of the expected establishment of a Palestinian State this September.)