By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
It seems that Hamas is keen not to stand as an obstacle hindering the convening of Fatah’s seventh conference scheduled for late November 2016. This is evidence in the messages of reassurance issued by Hamas leaders, stressing keenness on Fatah’s unity, non-interference in its internal affairs, non-support for any party against another within Fatah, and also Hamas’s non-objection to Fatah members residing in Gaza Strip (GS) to travel to take part in the Fatah conference.
Rearranging the Palestinian Home Front
One of the key objectives of Fatah’s seventh conference is discussing the internal Palestinian situation, and ways to re-organize the home front. Subsequently, the conference will have to tackle the issue of the relationship with Hamas and the implementation of the reconciliation agreement signed in May 2011, and how Hamas (and resistance forces) can be integrated into the executive and legislative institutions of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
However, this will not be a simple task, unless radical revisions are made regarding the fundamental causes of the differences between the two sides. Fatah and Hamas have a long history of competition, conflict, and distrust. Although the two factions represent the main two pillars of the modern Palestinian national movement, and together account for more than 80% of the votes cast by Palestinian voters, they have yet to succeed to manage their differences in the framework of one institutional structure, agree on the priorities of the Palestinian national project, or implement the agreements they have signed. The conflict between the two sides has in many cases led to negative effects on Palestinian action, with mutual obstructionism under the pretext of serving the national interest.
Attempts to reach an agreement between Fatah and Hamas date back to the late 1980s, and the early ascendancy of Hamas as a resistance movement and a key party in the Palestinian equation. Meetings were subsequently held in Yemen, Tunisia, Khartoum, and Cairo between 1990 and 1995. Meeting were held in Cairo again between 2002 and 2005, culminating with the Cairo Agreement on 17/3/2005, which paved the way for the conclusion of al-Aqsa Intifadah and the Palestinian legislative elections, and launching of rebuilding the PLO project. More meetings were concluded in the National Conciliation Charter (the Prisoners’ Charter) in 2006, the Mecca Agreement in 2007, and the Cairo Agreement in 2011.
It is a mistake to reduce the differences between Fatah and Hamas to being a struggle over power. Hamas’s Islamic frame of reference prevents it from holding agreements that would lead to compromising parts of Palestine or recognizing Israel, while Fatah’s pragmatic secular frame of reference does not stop it from holding agreements such as the Oslo Accords as an interim program for national action.
On the other hand, the priority for national action for Fatah is linked to the peace process as a gateway for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank (WB) and GS. By contrast, the priority for Hamas is armed resistance as the right approach to ending the occupation. For this reason, Mahmud ‘Abbas considers resistance tactics and weaponry to be futile, while Hamas sees the futility rather lying in the peace process.
At a time when Fatah accuses Hamas of causing the division, and of staging a coup against the legitimate authority by taking over GS, Hamas accuses Fatah of authoritarianism and monopoly of decision-making, domination of the PLO, obstruction of institutions, and blocking Hamas and other forces from being real partners… Hamas also accuses Fatah of obstructing the work of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC)… and precipitating the Palestinian division as a result of engaging in and imposing the Oslo Accords on Palestinians, while ignoring broad-based opposition (The Ten Palestinian Factions) to it.
Furthermore, both sides have exchanged accusations of disrupting the reconciliation. Fatah accuses Hamas of lack of seriousness in implementing the reconciliation and handing over government institutions in GS… For its part, Hamas accuses Fatah of the same, saying Fatah controls the course of reconciliation through its domination of the PLO and the PA, and ability to convene meetings of the Provisional Leadership Framework. Hamas says Fatah uses security coordination with the Israelis against its opponents in Hamas, and uses its Arab and international networks hostile to Hamas and “political Islam” movements to corner its opponents.
Participation of Fatah’s Representatives From GS
Fatah-Hamas relations are rather cold. Tensions have been high in recent months: Hamas has accused Fatah of doing an about-face on holding municipal elections using the Supreme Court of Justice as a guise, of continuing security coordination with Israel, of pressing a crackdown against resistance operatives, of ignoring reconciliation agreements, and of ignoring the issue of the civil servants appointed by the Hamas government in GS under Isma‘il Haniyyah. However, Hamas has now declared that it will not stop Fatah representatives in GS from attending the Fatah conference in WB.
The Haniyyah government had stopped those same representatives from attending Fatah’s sixth conference in Ramallah, in the summer of 2009, in retaliation for the crackdown by PA security forces in WB against Hamas and resistance operatives. Hamas’s measures were met with fury by Fatah, which saw them as an attempt to thwart the conference and undermine its credibility.
In the meeting between Mahmud ‘Abbas and Khalid Mish‘al brokered by Qatar in late October 2016, ‘Abbas was preoccupied with his crisis with Muhammad Dahlan more than anything else, including reconciliation. He expressed his anger with the pressure on him regarding reconciliation with Dahlan and the latter’s rehabilitation into Fatah. In the meeting and in other meetings, ‘Abbas received reassurances from Hamas’s leadership that it would not support Dahlan and would not interfere in Fatah internal affairs.
Some Fatah leaders were concerned Hamas could intervene to influence the Fatah conference by playing the Dahlan card. They had noticed increased activity of pro-Dahlan elements in GS, with money being brought in to the Strip to support “charitable” projects… However, Dahlan’s use of political money, and attempts to mobilize support are not limited to GS. He is active among Fatah cadres in WB itself, and in refugee camps abroad.
Dahlan, who is known for his ambition to take over leadership of Fatah and the PA, was elected as a member of Fatah central committee in 2009, after which he had major differences with Mahmud ‘Abbas… culminating with Dahlan’s expulsion from Fatah’s Central Committee in June 2011. He was accused of corruption and abuse of power… and had to flee to the UAE where he has been serving as advisor to Prince Mohammad bin Zayed.
Apparently, Hamas’s differences with Dahlan are no less significant than those he has with ‘Abbas… Wide segments of Hamas leadership hold Dahlan responsible for the lawlessness seen in GS and attempted coup against the government of Isma‘il Haniyyah… prompting Hamas to take over GS militarily in the summer of 2007. Hamas looks with suspicion at Dahlan’s role in the regional crackdown on “political Islam” movements and opposition forces… and has many questions about his Israeli and Western connections.
A number of Hamas leaders throughout the past months affirmed the group’s neutrality in Fatah’s internal rivalries… Some might even hinted that ‘Abbas, despite his bad conduct vis-à-vis Hamas, remained a better choice than Dahlan.
For example, Salah al-Bardawil has said that Hamas would not like to see Fatah “fragmented and destroyed….because that would be a nuclear bomb that will undermine the reputation and energy of the Palestinian people” (Site of Alresalah Press, Palestine, 16/5/2016). In another statement, Bardawil said that Hamas was not part of the dispute between ‘Abbas and Dahlan, and had no interest to be involved… and that those who speak of rapprochement between Hamas and Dahlan want to evade their political responsibilities and blame others for failing to manage their differences (Quds Press International News Agency, London, 23/10/2016). Another Hamas leader, Khalil al-Hayyeh, denied there was a deal between Hamas and Dahlan, and stressed that intra-Fatah differences were adversely affecting the Palestinian issue and that Fatah’s restoration of its energy and strength would be a source of strength for the Palestinian people (Al-Istiqlal, Gaza, 6/10/2016).
On the other hand, the authorities in GS uncovered a secret cell linked to Tawfiq al-Tirawi and Dahlan… (Site of Aljazeera.net, 3/5/2016, and site of Arabs 48, 4/5/2016). The cell sought to demonize GS and Hamas in the eyes of the Palestinians, Egyptians, and international public opinion. This raised serious concerns in Hamas’ ranks regarding Dahlan’s dangerous role.
The cell whose discovery was announced by Bardawil planned to assassinated ‘Abbas-linked Fatah figures like Ahmad Nasr, Ma’mun Sweidan, Jamal Kayid, and ‘Imad al-Agha, all Abbas-appointed governors in GS areas. The cell was accused of recording videos containing threats to the regime in Egypt and to Abbas in the name of ISIS. It seems that the capture of this cell, after which Hamas handed over a number of documents to ‘Abbas related to the cell, was an attempt by Hamas to show its credibility and to reassure ‘Abbas.
Finally, the biggest challenge Fatah faces is not Hamas, but three key crises: The first linked to vision and political path, and the need for a serious review of the peace process and the experience of the PLO and the PA, in order to reorient the compass in the service of the Palestinian national project.
The second linked to the internal and organizational structures of Fatah and addressing the corruption and weakness they suffer from.
And the third linked to the leadership, which need new blood and a plan for what comes after ‘Abbas.