Hamas and Fatah’s agreement: struggling for Palestine?
Fatah and Hamas may have agreed to form a new unity government, but their overriding interest is still to maintain their own power, not to defend the Palestinian people.
In February this year, Fatah and Hamas signed an agreement in Doha, Qatar, to form a new unity government composed of ‘independent personalities’ and led by Mahmoud Abbas as Prime minister. Hamas’ leadership in Gaza was highly critical of it from the outset, and the agreement is already being challenged.
This agreement was the first step in implementing the reconciliation agreement made in May 2011 between Fatah and Hamas, which was made possible in particular by the resignations of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his intelligence chief, Omar Suleiman. This was not only because they were two of the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) greatest supporters against Hamas, but because of the inspiration which the revolution in Egypt gave to Palestinian youth in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This left Hamas and Fatah facing rising discontent, which the agreement was intended to placate. However, neither party seems willing to enact the points of the reconciliation agreement.
New requests were made after the Doha agreement following a meeting in Cairo of the Hamas leadership movement on February 22. According to different sources, Hamas has demanded to keep the key ministries in the new government, including the ministry of interior, while requesting no change in the structure of security services in the Gaza Strip.
The demand to keep the interior ministry which oversees the Hamas security services and keep this the structure of it , show the will of Hamas movement to keep the Gaza strip under its total control since the events of 2007. Mahmoud Abbas double status as Prime Minister and President of the PA, which is unconstitutional according to Palestinian Law, was not anymore an issue for Hamas representatives in the new requests, they just ask to name a Gaza-based deputy to Abbas and his appointment as prime minister would be conditional on a vote of confidence in the Palestinian parliament.
The agreement on the unity government was actually the first step of the reconciliation agreement made in May 2011 which provides as well the preparation for Palestinian Authority elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a year combining the security forces controlled by the separate factions; and reactivating the Palestinian Legislative Council – in which Hamas won an overwhelming majority in 2006. We can observe that both parties are very far from willing to fulfill these points in a near future or at least being actively working towards it. According to the reconciliation agreement, elections should be held in May but Palestinians and analysts doubt it will take place this year. The Palestinian election commission has repeatedly declared that more time is needed to organize polling. It is also thought Israel will not permit Palestinians in East Jerusalem to participate in elections.
The unwillingness of the two parties to work according to the reconciliation agreement Fatah and Hamas can be seen in many areas, these latter have for example ignored the public freedoms committee created few months ago by themselves with other committees to implement the reconciliation agreement. The public freedoms committee was set to supervise the release of political affiliates on both sides, as well as improvements in political freedoms, ending newspaper bans, and reopening charities and other bodies closed during more than four years political division between governments in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Nothing has been done since then and lately both Hamas and Fatah agreed bilaterally to submit to Egypt a list of Fatah-affiliates detained for political reasons in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip during a recent meeting in Cairo, bypassing therefore the public freedom committee which is in charge of the political prisoners’ issue.
Fatah and Hamas have been more interested in increasing their power in their respective areas the WB and the Gaza Strip since the reconciliation agreement than trying to work to implement the reconciliation agreement, while any resistant program is completely ignored on both sides, despite rhetoric declarations on Hamas side.
No resistance project on both sides
Hamas and Fatah are concentrating on establishing and consolidating their own power. The PA is continuing to collaborate on security issues with Israel, despite their occupation and control of 60% of the West Bank. At the same time, the West Bank has witnessed demonstrations against soaring prices and recently-approved tax increases, as well as austerity measures declared by the PA to satisfy international donors.
In the Gaza strip, the siege reinforced Hamas politically, economically and militarily. While the people of Gaza remain dependent on foreign aid, the tunnel economy, estimated by Gazan businessmen at over $700 million annually, has nurtured a new mercantile elite which owes its prosperity to Hamas’ new order and is very often directly from the movement. A new generation of businessmen linked to Hamas has grown up, while the old generation of independent, traditional businessmen has been weakened. It’s no wonder that Hamas’ priority for the February agreement has been to keep its control of the security services in the Gaza Strip.
It’s notable that while reconciliation seems a long way off, Hamas is actually pursuing increasingly similar strategies to those of Fatah. Hamas has repeatedly declared its will to be recognized by the international community: Hamas leader Khaled Mechaal declared during the official ceremony for the May reconciliation agreement that Hamas wanted the ‘establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with Jerusalem as its capital’, i.e. a state on the lines of June 1967, the basis for negotiations in the eyes of the international community and the PA.
Hamas has long signaled its desire to move away from armed struggle toward purely political means. They have stopped nearly any form of military resistance since its takeover in 2007 and even prevented military resistance from Gaza, arresting any groups attempting to launch rockets on Israel. In the last Israeli attacks on Gaza, it was Islamic Jihad, PFLP and other small groups that launched rockets on Israel to respond to Israeli bombings, while Hamas so called resistance movement was absent in the resistance.
The PA meanwhile is more interested in continuous and fruitless negotiations with Israel and collaboration with the international community, while still trying to weaken Hamas’ power.
Hamas and regional changes
Hamas’ withdrawal from Syria and rapprochement with the Gulf moderate countries has been called a first step to the moderation of the party. The Islamic movement has a long record of good relations with the Gulf countries since its inception in 1988, and Hamas also wants to maintain good relations with Iran, despite differences on Syria. However, there is now a new consolidation and a closer rapprochement between Hamas and the Gulf countries allied to the US, linked especially to the revolutionary processes in Egypt and Tunisia which gave more power to the Muslim Brotherhoods. The Muslim Brotherhood movement, of which Hamas is a part, is looking for recognition from the international community, especially the US, and sees Western imperialist governments as potential partners in consolidating their power. In this context, the danger that Hamas may follow the same path as Fatah, putting the demands of the international community over those of the Palestinian people, is clear. However, there are contradictions inside Hamas, and opposition from a section of it to move towards even more moderation.
Conclusion: unity on resistant principles and from below
The reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah is still far from being implemented, due to the partisan interests of both parties. The central issue is actually to build unity based on principles and from below to rebuild the Palestinian resistant movement. A year ago a campaign, led by number of Palestinian activists inside and outside of Palestine, was started to demand the re-democratization of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) and this is still ongoing. The PNC is the highest Palestinian legislative body, and it represents all Palestinians, whether they are refugees or not. The PNC is the body that creates the national strategies, platforms and policies of the Palestinian people, which the PLO executive committee should implement. Only a rejuvenated, democratically-elected PNC can lay the foundation for effective representation of Palestinian rights, including the right of return. The externally-imposed fragmentation of the Palestinian people can be overcome by means of reclaiming the Palestinian parliament in exile.
The voices of all the Palestinians have to be heard and power has to be given back to them. The Palestinian national movement also must be reconnected to the ongoing popular movement in the Arab world, to reinforce the struggle of the Palestinians and the people of the region against Israeli and Western imperialism.
Viva a Free Palestine and Viva the Revolutions in the region