Gaza and the West Bank: Between Separation and Reunification

While Israel and the US see the separation between Gaza and the West Bank as a fait accompli, this issue of ReViews brings a variety of quotes from Fatah and Hamas members demonstrating that the option of reunification exists.

Hamas' take-over of the Gaza Strip and the creation of an emergency Fatah government in the West Bank seem to have anchored the de-facto division between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The two territorial units – already socially different from one another – are now being controlled by two political movements with different political, social and economic agendas.

Moreover, it seems that Israel and the US have accepted the separation between Gaza and the West Bank as a fait accompli and are now seeking to implement different policies towards the two: Whereas in Gaza, the Hamas government could serve as an address and be forced to face the burden of responsibility towards its population, the Fatah government is seen as constituting a potential political partner, receiving Israel's full support.

However, it seems that neither Fatah nor Hamas are eager to give up the principle of Gaza and the West Bank as a Single Territorial Unit – a principle recognized by Israel in the Oslo process and considered a major Palestinian achievement from the political process. Therefore, although currently the strife between a Hamas-led Gaza and a Fatah-led West Bank seems to be beyond repair, ultimately, calls for the reunification of the two areas are likely to become more common. At present, this trend is more visible within Hamas.

This issue of ReViews cites a variety of quotes from Fatah and Hamas regarding the tension between their aims for unity and the current reality of division.

Hamas: Looking for a New Power-Sharing Agreement with Fatah

It seems that Hamas did not intend its actions in Gaza to result in the de facto separation between Gaza and the West Bank. Fresh from its military victory in Gaza, Hamas is now looking to enter into negotiations with Fatah over a new power-sharing agreement between the two movements. It may even be willing to relinquish some of the fruits of victory in order not to lose the principle of Gaza and the West Bank as a single territorial unit. According to one report in the Maan News Agency, Hamas may even be willing to give up the position of Prime Minister.

The following quotes demonstrate how members of Hamas are promoting a dialogue with Fatah so as to prevent the formalization of the current effective separation between the West Bank and Gaza:

  • Hamas political leader Khaled Mashal said that "Hamas does not want to seize power in the PA" and that "there will be no two governments and no division of the homeland". (Ha'aretz, 6/16/07).

  • In an interview to French Daily Le Figaro, the Hamas government's Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh ruled out setting up a separate Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip saying "Gaza belongs to all the Palestinian people and not just Hamas….Separation is not on the agenda and never will be". (Ha'aretz, 6/16/07).

  • Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya declared Abu Mazen's emergency government illegal but at the same time offered overtures to Fatah, "We don't have much time and we are expecting fruitful talks…. Anyone who is looking for a way out other than dialogue, will be forced to take responsibility for his actions". (Maan News, 6/19/07 Guardian, 6/20/07).

  • Mahmoud Al-Zahar called on Fatah to enter into dialogue claiming that if Abu Mazen refused "the division between the Palestinian people will be perpetuated and he will be held responsible because of his unlawful decisions." He added that Fatah would have to accept the new reality, saying, "Abu-Mazen will have to cancel all the decisions he made and their results and recognize the new reality on the ground before any meetings take place". (Asharq Alawsat, 6/20/07).

  • Al-Zahar also warned that, "Fatah in the West Bank will receive money, and they will have to pass it on to Gaza. If it doesn't, it will lose Gaza forever". (Der Spiegel, 6/22/07).

Fatah: No dialogue with Hamas; Refusal to Relinquish Gaza

Following its humiliating defeat in Gaza, Fatah totally rejects negotiating with Hamas despite the latter's call for dialogue.

This position by no means signifies that Fatah 'concedes' Gaza. Fatah sees the unity of the West Bank and Gaza as a primary national interest and maintains that the emergency government should enjoy full authority over Gaza as well as the West Bank. One source even goes so far as to claim Abu Mazen is looking to reoccupy Gaza by force with the Badr Brigades, currently situated in Jordan.1

Despite its current uncompromising position, it is probable that 'in the name of national interest' increasing calls for the reunification of Gaza and the West Bank will also be heard in Fatah.

a. No Dialogue with Hamas

  • Abu Mazen refused an offer by head of the Arab League Amr Moussa to meet with Mashal. His adviser, Yasser Abed Rabbo told a news conference that the President would not engage in a dialogue with killers. (Ha'aretz, 6/17/07).

  • The Fatah Central Committee in the West Bank decided to sever all ties with Hamas, banning all contacts with what it termed 'coup seekers'. (Fox News 6/19/07).

  • In a speech to the Palestinian National Council (PLO), Abu Mazen demanded that Hamas apologize to the people and leadership of the PLO for its crime and emphasized the legitimacy and authority of the new legitimate government of 'United Palestine'. (Memri, 6/22/07).

  • Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesperson for the PA leadership explained that "Before any dialogue, Hamas must withdraw its armed people from all the places they occupied and return power to the legitimate authority." (Jerusalem Post, 6/19/07).

b. Full Authority over West Bank and Gaza

  • New Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad stated that "The government will never consider the invitations to negotiate with Hamas, unless it accepts the authority of the legitimate government". (Al-Ayyam, 6/27/07).

  • In a speech during his swearing in ceremony, Fayyad stressed "The organic unity, administrative and political wings of the homeland in Gaza and the West Bank" and emphasized the emergency government's responsibility over both areas. (Al Hayat, 6/20/07). He also stated the importance of "Contemplating possibilities over how to reconnect and strengthen the link between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip" (Al-Ayyam 6/20/07) and reiterated the government's commitment to the reunification of the West Bank and Gaza. (Al-Ayyam, 6/27/07).

  • Information Minister Riyad al-Malki told reporters that "The government will pursue its jurisdiction over all parts of the homeland, regardless of what happened in Gaza". (Ha'aretz, 6/18/07).

1 Kuwaiti paper Al Qabas reports that Olmert agreed to a request by Abu Mazen to allow the Badr Corps troops from Jordan to the West comes in the framework of a security plan approved by the PLO to restore Strip by force (Al Qabas 6/28/07)