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 By Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh

The people who have followed the eighteen years of dialogue between Fatah and Hamas might have became discouraged or frustrated, since the two movements haven’t, till now, been able to reach a national “treaty” or “agreement” that forms a binding reference. They also haven’t been able to establish work mechanisms that hey both would respect and practically adhere to.

None of the parties need anyone to preach to them about the importance of national unity or the danger of the Zionist project. They have enough leaders able to give lectures lasting years concerning this topic. In addition, both parties have made enough sacrifices and have given enough martyrs, leaders, and prisoners to prove their loyalty and love for the Palestinian cause. So, where is the problem?

If sectarian or factional fanaticism and personal aspects are left aside, it seems as if the problem is connected to a number of intertwining factors, the most prominent of which are:

The Ideological Reference

There is no one joint (intellectual) or ideological reference that pinpoints what is sacred, constant, and nonnegotiable; and what can be subject to change, interests, political assessments, the factors of time and place, the balances of power, work environments, etc…

This, of course, is reflected on the national and political agendas of both parties, especially in determining the priorities and what sacrifices could be made. This also reflects on strategic and tactical visions of both parties concerning the resistance and settlement projects.

One of the most prominent examples of this problem is the issue of acknowledging the Zionist entity and what it entails, which includes giving up the land occupied in 1948, which makes up about 77% of the total historical Palestinian land.

As far as Hamas is concerned, Palestine is Islamic land and no part of it could ever be given up, no matter how much pressure they’re put under. They feel that the battle is a battle for the generations and that there is nothing that can justify giving in, even when the Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims are in the weakest of conditions.

As for Fatah, the issue is associated with the assessment of interest, studying status-quo and the balances of power, and attaining any of what could be attained in accordance with legitimate international resolutions, because insisting of having all of Palestine may lead to losing all of it. They also feel that they can’t gamble by relying on the factor of time, which hasn’t worked to the best interest of the issue in the last 100 years.

The Institutional References

The second problem lies in the non-existence of an institutional reference to which both parties could refer, and that controls the mechanisms of national decision making, as well as the mechanisms of peaceful transfer of authority and the legitimacy of representation for the Palestinian people.

The Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), which has been controlled by Fatah for the last 40 years, is an accepted umbrella by both parties, although this organization has faced two serious problems:

First, during the past 20 years, the organization’s role has lost ground and its departments have weakened; its effect on the National Palestinian scene has deteriorated, and its leadership institutions have aged and became disabled; its executive committee and national assembly are 12 years old; the Palestinian National Council hasn’t been held except once in 17 years (in 1996). The Palestinian Authority has intruded on the PLO, and took hostage, while the former was originally, and should be, subordinate to the latter.

The second problem is that the rising Palestinian powers, especially Hamas, that aren’t represented in the PLO but currently have weight on the Palestinian arena, won’t be satisfied with merely joining the organization, without installing any essential reforms, that first, reflect the minimum basics of their ideological vision and national program, and secondly reflect the movement’s true weight and popularity among the Palestinian audience. The movement will also insist that its participation in the organization should reflect in a true reform process for the structure of the PLO and its institutions, so that the organization is no more a tool monopolized or exploited by a specific party or faction.

It has been made clear through the last 18 years of dialogue between Fatah and Hamas, that the authoritative leadership within Fatah and the PLO has not been serious about taking any real on-ground steps in a structural reform of the PLO, that will make possible fair and effective participation of other parties.

Building Trust

The third problem lies in the lack of trust between the two parties, especially since the doom of many previous negotiations and agreements has added an atmosphere full of frustration, doubt, and distrust.

Many Hamas members don’t trust Fatah’s leadership of the Palestinian political course, especially after the series of compromises, the acknowledgement of Israel, the security coordination with Israel and the Americans; and after the bitter experience of Oslo and what followed it. Hamas has even more reasons not to trust Fatah because many of Fatah leaders were accused of corruption, in addition to the fact that Fatah itself is suffering from fragmentation and limpness, which makes it more difficult for Fatah to control its members if an agreement is made with Hamas. Many Hamas members feel that Fatah is still governed with the mentality of domination and the monopoly of authority, and that by doing this it doesn’t offer any real chances of rearranging the files within the Palestinian domestics.

On the other hand, not many Fatah leaders trust Hamas’ leadership of the Palestinian political course, and accuse Hamas of being unrealistic, causing the blockade imposed on the Palestinian people, and of not providing any practical horizons for solving the Palestinian peoples’ problems and concerns. They also feel that the manner of Hamas’ resistance cripples the settlement track and aborts the dream of a Palestinian state. Moreover, they feel that it gives Israel a chance to use the security excuses as justification to escape peace benefits and allows Israel to continue with the suppression of the Palestinian people and build the separation wall and settlements.

The Foreign Factor
The foreign factor is an important fourth factor. The experience of the Fatah-Hamas dialogue shows that a main reason behind Fatah’s desire to begin dialogues with Hamas, in many instances, was to have the complete legitimate representation of the Palestinians, in order to deal with Israel, America, and the international community; and be up to the requirement of negotiations and settlement.

On the other hand, the context that surrounded the weakening of Hamas and the attempts to marginalize it in the 1990’s were all done under international pressure and blessings. The Israeli and American interference during the Intifada was both rude and obvious. During the period that followed Hamas’s victory, President Mahmoud Abbas was threatened with ending negotiations and imposing blockade on the West Bank, if he negotiates with Hamas and makes an agreement with the movement. This was all in an attempt to influence the Palestinian decision-making, to back one party against the other, to support lawlessness, and to overthrow Hamas and the National Palestinian Unity Government.

Reading into the Dialogue Experience

Many observers believe that the historical experience of the dialogue between Fatah and Hamas points out the fact that Fatah doesn’t usually resort to dialogue until they absolutely need to. This either could be to appear, in front of Israel and America, as representing all the Palestinians, to provide a cover under which they pass political deals, to calm down the situation through the time factor, or for a particular benefit.

In 1988, Hamas refused the idea of the PLO (specifically Fatah) getting 5 out of 450 seats in the 19th Palestinian National Council. At that time, Yasser Arafat was dealing with the announcement of a Palestinian state and announcing his agreement to the resolution to divide Palestine, resolution 242, and agreeing to comply with the American conditions on renouncing terrorism, to ease into negotiations with America.

In August 1991, a meeting between Hamas and Fatah was held in Khartoum. Arafat wanted Hamas to join the PLO and the prospective National Council in the following month, and was hesitant to make a decision concerning their participation in the Settlement conference being held in Madrid. Since the Palestinian Authority was formed, in 1994, it has sought after monopolizing the power and establishing its authority by dealing with Hamas through 3 axes, depending on which is needed at the time. These axes are dialogue, containment, and suppression, arrest, and attempts at marginalization and distortion.
During the period of December 18-21, 1995, a dialogue was held between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, where Fatah tried to convince Hamas to participate in the Palestinian Authority (PA) elections or to at least get some sort of guarantee that Hamas won’t try to sabotage the elections. Hamas boycotted the elections, but kept their word about not sabotaging the elections. 
Since 1996 and until the al-Aqsa Intifada in 2000, the PA/Fatah didn’t feel the need to negotiate with Hamas or any opposing force, after they were able to impose their authority in their area and after they were able sustain a harsh blow to Hamas in spring 1996.
“Security Language” was used by the PA most of the time when it came to dealing with Hamas. It is a language that adopts dealing with Hamas as a movement that is “rebellious”, however, “under control”. Hamas was able to prove itself once more after al-Aqsa Intifada, and was able to regain its pioneering role in the opposition and was also able to increase its popularity.

It was obvious that no one would be able to overlook Hamas politically or put a stop to the Intifada without their permission. For this reason, Fatah renewed its invitation to Hamas for dialogue.

At the time that Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and other parties agreed on dialogue for seeking a joint national Palestinian program, while they also recognized that the next move to put an end to the Intifada and push forward the wheel of settlement was to hit the infrastructure of the resistance and seize their weapons.

Hence, the Cairo negotiations were held on November 10-13, 2002 between Hamas and Fatah. Then on December 4-7, 2003 and in January 2003, negotiations were held with the participation of all the factions. On March 15-17, 2005, a negotiation stage was held in Cairo with the participation of Fatah, Hamas, and the other parties, where a Palestinian program was adopted. This program includes the right to resist occupation, accepts a ceasefire till the end of the year. Moreover, the convening parties agreed on holding legislative elections, re-organizing the PLO and reforming it on a basis that enables all Palestinian parties to join it.

As for the discussions that followed Hamas’s victory in the legislative elections, these were all lost effectively by actual practices and by insecurity and assassinations; regardless of these discussions being numerous, consuming and long-lasting, and that two textual documents were only theoretically established, i.e. the national reconciliation document and the Mecca Accords.

Recurrently, the trust building process has suffered harsh blows. While the president Abbas was charging Haniyah with forming the government, he was stripping the government of its most important authorities in security, media, foreign affairs and administrative appointments.

Three weeks after the Mecca Accords, Abbas issued a presidential decree appointing Dahlan as his advisor for national security and as Secretary of the National Security Council. The National Unity government was barely formed, when already there were indications on the execution of the American and Dahlan’s plan to overthrow the Palestinian government, in coordination with authoritative members in Fatah.

This is how, eventually, the “armed” negotiations took the place of the “table” ones. Things became complicated in mid May 2007, reaching a climax in mid June, when Hamas was able to control the Gaza Strip. This caused a break, and intensified the trust crisis between the two parties; a crisis that was unworkable till now by any of the mediation attempts.


It doesn’t seem that President Abbas will begin any unconditioned negotiations with Hamas, unless he is sure that the settlement track reached a dead end. Moreover, Abbas may be forced to have a serious dialogue with Hamas if the movement continues to have control of the Gaza Strip, especially until his term as President of the Palestinian Authority is over at the end of 2008. Even this dialogue -if held- may not be anything but a tactical dialogue aiming to overcome another new phase.

This is why the writer of these lines is not optimistic concerning the dialogue between Fatah and Hamas; until the necessary work to rearrange the Palestinian domestics is sincerely worked out, according to a binding national “contract” that is based on the independence of the Palestinian decision, on neutralizing the factor of foreign influence, ending the monopoly of a specific party or faction to authority and restraint on the decision-making institutions and process, especially the PLO; and until the concept of peaceful transfer of authority is established, where the Palestinian leadership and political decisions will reflect the true will and determination of the Palestinian people.

This article is a translation of the arabic article published by Dr. Mohsen Moh’d Saleh on Aljazeera.Net on 19-6-2008