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Copyright © 2019 The American Israel Public Affairs Committee

Palestinian “Reconciliation” Offers Little Hope for Israeli-Palestinian Peace

Senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad, center right, and Hamas' representative, Saleh al-Arouri, center left, sign a reconciliation agreement during a press conference at the Egyptian intelligence complex in Cairo, Egypt. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty)

On Oct. 2, Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah traveled from the Fatah-controlled West Bank to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. There, he met with Hamas leaders to further an effort to reconcile the two main Palestinian factions. While the practical results remain unclear, Hamas has yet to take any of the steps required to make it a suitable, legitimate partner for peace negotiations.

Hamas reportedly has agreed to some of Fatah’s mid-September demands in an effort to persuade PA President Mahmoud Abbas to resume supplying electricity and end economic sanctions against Gaza.  These appear to include dismantling Hamas’ Administrative Committee in Gaza and agreeing to conduct nationwide elections.

At the same time, Hamas and Fatah remain at odds on many key issues. Hamas leaders have refused Abbas demands that the terrorist group relinquish its weapons and adhere to Abbas’ principle of “one law, one gun.”   

In addition, Hamas continues to eschew the key Middle East Quartet Principles established following the 2002 formation of the Quartet (the United Nations, European Union, Russia and the United States).  Under these essential principles, Hamas must: (1) recognize Israel; (2) agree to abide by previous diplomatic agreements; and (3) renounce violence.

Hamas Remains an Unrepentant Terrorist Organization

Hamas was founded in 1987 as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. In 1988, it published its founding charter, an anti-Semitic document calling for Israel’s destruction and the murder of all Jews. Since its inception, Hamas has killed more than 500 civilians in terrorist attacks—including more than two-dozen Americans—and continues to instruct Gaza’s children to hate Israelis and Israel. Just this past May, the terrorist group trumpeted an effort to improve its international image by releasing a new policy document. But Hamas neither revoked nor superseded its original charter, continuing to advocate for terrorism and the complete destruction of Israel.

The United States designated Hamas as a terrorist organization two decades ago, and has no reason to re-evaluate this determination. Three recent events epitomize Hamas’ current thinking. First, in February, Hamas elected Yahya Sinwar, one of the terrorist group’s most ruthless leaders, as its Gaza chief. Sinwar was serving a life sentence in Israel for murdering Palestinians accused of collaborating with the Jewish state, but he was released in 2011 as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange. Sinwar has been on the United States’ terrorism blacklist since 2015. Since taking office, he has vowed to liberate “all of Palestine.”

Next, in August, Sinwar publicly hailed Iran’s financial patronage. Overcoming strained relations over Tehran’s murder of Sunnis in Syria, Iran has restored close relations. With Iranian support, Hamas continues to build terror tunnels into Israel, smuggle military supplies into Gaza, and store more than 10,000 rockets—many in highly populated areas—in preparation for its next round of hostilities with Israel.

Lastly, in October, Hamas announced the appointment of its new deputy political leader—Saleh al-Arouri—the alleged mastermind of the 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens that precipitated Israel’s Operation Protective Edge.

Hamas and Fatah Have Been Divided for Over a Decade

In January 2006, Hamas won a resounding victory in Palestinian legislative elections. Fatah initially refused to cooperate with Hamas, but the two formed a unity government the following year. But in June 2007, the two sides clashed in Gaza leaving more than 600 Palestinians dead and more than a thousand wounded. Hamas emerged the victor and seized control of Gaza. Since then, Hamas has launched thousands of rockets at Israeli population centers and provoked three deadly conflicts with Israel. Palestinian governance of the West Bank and Gaza remains divided.

Gaza’s population has suffered greatly under Hamas rule. Humanitarian aid intended for the people of Gaza is routinely stolen by Hamas, either to enrich its leaders or to support terrorism. Schools and populated areas in Gaza are exploited to host launch platforms and store weapons, severely endangering civilians. Over the past decade, Hamas has been directly responsible for the death of more than 1,100 Palestinians.

President Abbas’ decision in April 2017 to reduce payments to Israel for Gaza’s electricity put immense pressure on Hamas, exacerbating the terrorist group’s already-dire financial situation. Hamas eventually agreed to some of Abbas’ demands.  But Hamas behavior leads many to believe that it that it hopes to implement the militia-cum-political party Hezbollah model in Gaza. In such a scenario, Fatah would be technically responsible for governance, with Hamas free of unattractive governance responsibilities and free to pursue its violent strategies.

Reconciliation Must Involve Hamas Adopting the Quartet Principles

Successive American administrations have demanded that Hamas adopt the Quartet Principles. Responding to the most recent Hamas-Fatah reconciliation attempts, White House Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt issued an Oct. 2 statement that welcomed "efforts to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza," adding, "we will be watching these developments closely, while pressing forward ... to try to improve the humanitarian situation in Gaza." The statement concluded, “Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, and peaceful negotiations.” 

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