There is not much to celebrate in terms of Palestinian politics these days but one ray of sunshine has emerged over the past week that gives the Palestinians a semblance of hope — preliminary discussion of a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation bid.
Palestine’s two most powerful parties have been at each other’s throats since the Hamas leadership decided to expand their claws into Palestinian politics. Hamas’ first foray in elections proved to be an extremely successful one and a shock to policymakers in Israel and the United States. After a legislative vote that was deemed free and fair by the United Nations, Hamas candidates swept the elections against a Fatah party that Palestinians had grown sick and tired of after lost hopes and complaints of corruption.
Since, Fatah and Hamas have plotted behind the scenes to make life as difficult as possible for one another. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah colleagues remain suspicious of Hamas’ motives, who have yet to officially abandon their original platform of armed resistance against Israel.
Travel a dozen miles west to the Gaza Strip — which Hamas has controlled since its forces kicked out Abbas’ security personnel — and you will find an Islamist movement that is equally displeased with how the Palestinian Authority is running its business in the West Bank.
The latest issue of contention between the two concerned the Palestinian Authority’s gamble at the United Nations, which Hamas leaders quickly denounced as de facto recognition of Israel and a naive exercise in diplomacy.
With this week’s news of a face to face meeting between Fatah’s Abbas and Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas’ political bureau, the antagonism that has defined Palestinian politics over the last few years may be slowly moving to becoming a thing of the past. Both groups have signed their names to a document outlining the first few steps toward a new era of intra-Palestinian cooperation. If all goes according to plan, parliamentary elections will be scheduled for May of next year. The two parties would attempt to form an independent and bipartisan transitional government in the interim.
There was one painful concession that Fatah had to made in order to bring Hamas to the table. Salam Fayyad, the popular Palestinian Authority prime minister, had to resign his position.
As is common in Palestinian politics, nothing is set in stone. Minds tend to change on a whimsy, often turning the most popular resolution into a crumpled, balled up piece of paper. The history of reconciliation among Fatah and Hamas administrators has revealed that the process of picking candidates who are truly independent will be a long and exhausting one. Hamas tends to oppose candidates proposed by Fatah purely to prolong the frustration.
Then there is Israel whose government is steadfast in its opposition to work with any Palestinian government that includes Hamas as a partner.
There is international support for the reconciliation. The French have endorsed the unification effort and Jordan’s King Abdullah, who is trying to reach out to the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamic Action Front in his own country, traveled to Mahmoud Abbas’ West Bank headquarters for the first time since 1999 to reassure his Palestinian counterpart that Jordan will be praying for the reconciliation bid to succeed.
Washington has only reiterated its position on what Hamas needs to do in order to gain acceptance from the United States — renounce violence, recognize Israel’s right to exist and abide by past peace agreements. Pending a magical wave of the wand by Hamas, it appears that they will receive no praise from the United States even if the party is allowed into Palestine’s political process.
It is too soon to tell whether the Fatah-Hamas agreement herald an “Arab Spring” for Palestine. The only disagreement that was meshed out during the first meeting in Cairo was the need to get Palestinians in front of the voting booths. The sheer fact that the two bosses of Palestinian politics met, and will meet again next month, is reason for the Palestinian people to be optimistic though.