Despite the differences in ideology and in political programs and trends, besides the confidence crisis and external intervention, the two sides of the Palestinian schism (Fatah and Hamas) were urged to reconcile when both faced a critical moment. Both peace process and armed resistance are facing huge challenges and complicated conditions, which has led to the signing of al-Shati Agreement on 23/4/2014.
The Israelis will try to foil the implementation of the agreement, while the Americans will not be happy with its execution. Should it lead to a genuine national unity where the Palestinian house is put in order, and where Hamas and the Islamic Jihad Movement in Palestine (PIJ) are part of its structure and leadership, both the US and some regional countries will try to foil it.
It is not easy for the agreement to be fully implemented, yet maybe some breakthroughs will happen in government formation and the unification of the Palestinian political entity. Further success would still be dependent on the honest will of the Palestinian factions and prioritization of higher interests of the Palestinian people.
The recurrent failure to implement signed agreements between Fatah and Hamas has raised doubts of the Palestinian street and many politicians, regarding the likeliness of implementing al-Shati Agreement signed on 23/4/2014. Both movements have failed to implement provisions of previous agreements although some have been sponsored officially by certain Arab countries. In 2005, the Cairo Agreement was signed, and in 2006 the National Reconciliation Document or Prisoners’ Document was signed.
The Mecca Agreement was then signed in 2007 under Saudi sponsorship and a national unity government was formed but only lasted for several months. Following the Israeli offensive on Gaza Strip (GS) in 2008/2009, an Egyptian paper for reconciliation was presented and it was signed in 2011 as the National Reconciliation Accord under the sponsorship of Egypt and the League of Arab States. In 2012, the Doha Agreement was signed stipulating that Mahmud ‘Abbas is the prime minister who forms a government of national competencies. Given that all of these agreements failed to be implemented, would it be possible for al-Shati Agreement to succeed and put an end to a period of Palestinian schism?
Reasons of Conflict Between Fatah and Hamas:
The conflict between the two movements may be traced to many factors most prominent among which are:
1. Ideological background: Hamas has an Islamic ideology, which refuses to concede any part of Palestine or to recognize Israel, while seeking to liberate all Palestine. In contrast, the ideology of Fatah, the pragmatic and secular movement, allows it to maneuver and concede some parts of Palestine and some Palestinian fundamentals, citing the needs of the period and facts on the ground. Ultimately, this has resulted in big difference in the nature of the national project, its track and entitlements.
2. The confidence crisis: The relation between the two sides has been characterized by severe competition and mutual skepticism while Hamas was excluded from Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and suffered persecution by the Palestinian Authority (PA) apparatuses. Then, the conflict escalated after Hamas’s victory in the 2006 legislative elections and it was accompanied with a state of lawlessness and factional strife. Consequently, the conflict developed into inter-Palestinian division demonstrated in Hamas’s control over the GS and the security measures assumed by the two sides against each other.
3. Difference in the political programs: The emergence of Hamas as a new revolutionary movement was in concurrence with severe deterioration in Fatah’s political program. Thus, when Fatah started to consider the two-state solution and the recognition of Israel, Hamas presented a political program, which would honor national fundamentals, supporting its thought with religious argument, thus obstructing Fatah’s political program. The issue was further complicated after signing Oslo Accords and the formation of the PA where the peace process adopted by Fatah was thwarted due to the resistance track adopted by Hamas, and vice versa. Therefore, achieving a unified Palestinian organizational structure has become far-fetched due to the difficulty (or impossibility) of bringing the peace process and resistance together.
4. Foreign intervention and political alignments: Despite the regional and international intervention in the issues of the Palestinian national movement. Yet, this interference became more direct, overt and influential after the formation of the PA. Financial, security and military aid was used to support one side at the expense of the other, and the persecution of resistance movements became a condition for gaining the support of different foreign sides. On the Arab level, the split into a “Moderation Axis” and a “Refusal Front” has nurtured the difference between the two movements as each aligned with one of the two camps and the inter-Palestinian conflict now became part of the regional conflict. In addition, changes and transformations in the Arab world had their impact on the Palestinian situation.
Motives of Signing al-Shati’ Agreement:
Although differences between Fatah and Hamas have not dissipated, but the two parties had several motives to sign al-Shati’ Agreement:
1. The deadlocked peace process as a result of Israeli extremism and American bias, which might urge Fatah to consider major modifications of its political program.
2. Fatah’s attempts to resolve internal organizational crises, especially those related to the GS and Diaspora, as the Movement has not succeeded in rebuilding its organizational bodies as it would please. Moreover, Fatah is seeking to face Dahlan’s attempts to reassume a leading position within the Movement.
3. Enhancing the legitimacy of the PLO and President ‘Abbas in representing and leading the Palestinian people.
4. Investing in what Fatah thinks is Hamas’s moment of weakness, as a result of Egypt’s participation in strangulating the siege of the GS and the wave targeting Political Islam in the region.
5. The belief that the elections to be held after six months would be in Fatah’s favor based on data and opinion polls.
6. Burnishing Fatah’s national image, which was marred by the conduct of security forces and their coordination with the occupation, besides the stalemate on the political level.
7. Abu Mazen’s personal will to terminate his political tenure with a unique national act, especially in putting the Palestinian house in order.
8. The inability to exclude Hamas from the political scene despite the internal and external pressures put on the Movement.
1. Dwindling hope for positive change in Palestine’s strategic environment towards supporting the resistance track spearheaded by Hamas.
2. The disintegration of the “Refusal Front” supportive of the Palestinian issue besides the halt of Syrian support and the deterioration of Iranian support.
3. Attempts to overcome the siege imposed on GS, which was exacerbated after the coup in Egypt.
4. Restoring the role of the West Bank (WB) in facing the occupation, settlement expansion and Judaization.
5. Pressing to rebuild and develop the PLO through the participation of Hamas and the PIJ in a way that guarantees political partnership in Palestinian decision-making.
6. Hamas’s belief that this is the suitable time for an agreement with Fatah, which suffers crises in PA’s management, the peace process and internal organizational issues.
7. Hamas’s confidence in its strength and its belief that it enjoys wide popular support at home and abroad, besides the military and organizational power in the GS, which makes it impossible for any Palestinian party to exclude it from the Palestinian scene.
International Stances Towards the Agreement:
On the Arab level: It is difficult to talk about a political Arab stance since Arab countries are too occupied with their internal concerns to care about the Palestinian issue. Thus, serious opposition to the agreement is not likely and no effective support for it could be expected either, except from some countries that would want to distance Hamas (an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood) from the political scene.
On the Israeli level: It is likely that Israeli will try to abort this agreement with every possible means, given that it is the biggest beneficiary from the state of division. The means Israel could employ are diversified and influential where economic, security and military pressures might primarily influence the Ramallah-based PA.
On the international level: Western powers would not rush into abandoning the Quartet conditions in dealing with the Palestinian government (PA and PLO in general). It is likely for these powers be silent on the agreement should it enhance the political track they support (two-state solution and marginalizing Hamas). Thus, Western position might be cautious and reserved and it might wait for the outcome of the elections, should they be held, to figure out the nature and inclinations of the new Palestinian leadership and accordingly determine the apt approach to deal with it.
First scenario: The failure of the agreement, and this is likely if both sides fail to resist external intervention, especially by Israel and the US, and if they fail to curb the whims of some internal forces, namely those seeking private interests or having the mentality of security and exclusionary solutions. This scenario is also likely should the agreement be approached as a phased tactic to overcome current conditions.
Second scenario: The complete success of the agreement and the ability to resolve all related files. This scenario is “desirable” but it is faced with major domestic and international hindrances, thus it is barely likely to crystallize.
Third scenario: Limited success of the agreement, which means that the agreement would succeed to resolve the government problem and unify political entity, but it might fail to deal with complicated files such as security, the PLO and elections.
The probable scenario in light of available data is the third and its achievement would mark important and vital development in inter-Palestinian relations and in the national Palestinian issue. Factors, which make this scenario seem to be the most probable can be summarized as follows:
1. Easing international pressure opposed to the reconciliation, especially after the peace process had stumbled and many sides blamed Israel for its failure.
2. The Arab world occupation with its internal concerns and the inability of current regimes to support any Palestinian side at the expense of the other.
3. The current reconciliation left the Palestinian political decision-making and putting the Palestinian house in order in the hands of ‘Abbas (Fatah leadership). This would be a reassuring factor for different Arab and international sides.
4. After the stumbling of the peace process, the Palestinian national and political arena has become open for all possibilities, which might put both sides in a crisis none of them would want to face its repercussions.
5. The fear that Israel might pursue unilateral measures, such as the division or destruction of al-Aqsa Mosque, or unilateral withdrawal from the WB in the part whose borders are defined by the Separation Wall or from some parts. Palestinians need consensus to confront such measures.
6. No party has to concede its political program in the current formula, thus facilitating for both sides to take this step.
1. Prioritizing the higher national Palestinian interest, and resisting external pressures no matter how strong they are.
2. Not betting on regional developments because the stability of Arab regimes needs quite a long time.
3. Abandoning the exclusion mentality and the inclination to impose facts on the ground, while pursuing a rhetoric of dialogue and joint action.
4. Resorting in national relations to political and legitimate means and respecting the will of the Palestinian people.
* Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations thanks Mr. Ahmad ‘Atawneh for authoring the original draft on which this strategic assessment was based.