Hamas and Fatah: Between a (Dome of the) rock and a hard place

Looking for an answer

Though all parties tried to put a brave face on it, last week’s conference in Mecca did little to hide the few critical differences between the rival Fatah and Hamas parties in Palestine, though Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas have managed to patch together the framework for a unity government. Amidst ongoing violence between the two factions and new tensions over a unilateral Israeli decision to begin archaeological and construction works near the Al Aqsa mosque, details of the makeup of the Palestinian cabinet and the fate of Hamas’ powerful military have yet to be decided. Nevertheless, Hamas is still expected to step down shortly, with all parties involved insisting that the international community restore financial aid. And as the Saudi government discovered the value of Islam’s holiest city for resolving political disputes, many observers are noting a new concerted effort by them to be regional brokers (a rumoured $1 billion in aid is promised).

The Saudi sponsored conference was meant in part to highlight the religious commonality between the leaders, who shared an umrah after the agreement was reached. As for the agreement itself, Israel remains non-committal for now, with some in that country saying it might be good for them, due to the Iran-countering influence the Saudis might gain over Muslim countries (not to mention the Saudi-sponsored Arab League initiative of 2002 that is getting a second look). Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmood Abbas has insisted that agreements made by previous governments (all mostly Fatah-led under Yasser Arafat’s rule) be honoured by Hamas (the Mecca agreement states that Hamas will only “respect” them), a semantic difference which is proving to be the biggest sticking point.

The insistence of a “right to exist,” insisted upon by Israel and most of the international community has always been refused by Hamas, though there have been occasional hints by some members that they would recognise “the reality” of Israel, withough explicitly recognising the Jewish state. And despite their ham-handed ways of articulating their views, they do have a point. “For Palestinians to acknowledge the occurrence of the Nakba – the expulsion of the great majority of Palestinians from their homeland between 1947 and 1949 – is one thing,” notes Palestinian advisor John Whitbeck. “For them to publicly concede that it was “right” for the Nakba to have happened would be something else entirely.” Similarly, Israel has yet to recognise the right of a Palestinian state to exist (pending negotiations), much less one that, unlike the current Authority, has the rights of most other modern states, including air and water rights.

But for now, the marketing exercise means that Fatah and Abbas will continue to press their case, tell Hamas to keep quiet and attempt to restrain their supporters from training their guns on each other or across the Green Line (especially the use of so-called “symbolic” Qassam rockets, a favourite Israeli pretext for retribution). Mindful of the inherent complications of the agreement, the Saudis were pleased to provided the dates and hummous, but have otherwise decided not to sell the deal to the rest of the world. “We are not in the marketing business. We are not going to market the agreement,” said a Saudi official said on condition of anonymity. “That’s the responsibility of the two parties.”

Zahed Amanullah is associate editor of altmuslim.com. He is based in London, England.

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