Fatah Hamas Unity: End to Political Process or New Opportunity?

The establishment of a new Palestinian Unity Government would create significant dilemmas for Israel in terms of its policies towards the Palestinian Authority and whether to continue the political process. Israel should begin to evaluate the dilemmas such a government would pose.

According to several sources, talks between Fatah and Hamas are taking place, backed by the support of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, with the aim of reuniting the Gaza Strip and West Bank. (See Maan 12/7/07, Ha'aretz 12/10/07).

The establishment of a new Palestinian Unity Government would create significant dilemmas for Israel in terms of its policies towards the Palestinian Authority and whether to continue the political process.

What is the Issue?

Following Hamas' takeover of Gaza and the firing of the Haniyeh Government by Abu Mazen (6/07), there has been a de facto separation between Hamas controlled Gaza and the Fatah led West Bank. This separation has allowed the renewal of the political process.

Israel previously refused to recognize the PA Government under the leadership of Hamas, and has clarified that Hamas' presence in any future Unity Government will end the political process.

Although operating under his authority as Chairman of the PLO, Abu Mazen suffers from internal Palestinian criticism over his legitimacy to negotiate with Israel. This is in light of Hamas' control over Gaza, the movement's absence from PLO institutions and criticism over the legal-judicial basis for Fayyad's government in Ramallah.

Why is this Important? Why Now?

The main significance of the establishment of a Unity Government in the PA is the renewal of Hamas' political veto on the political process in light of:

Hamas' majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council of the PA that guarantees its ability to block any policies it disagrees with. This veto remains despite the fact that in the name of Palestinian unity, Hamas may relinquish some of its gains in Gaza and even the position of Prime Minister.

Revalidation of Hamas' demand to establish a new PLO that will include Hamas and the other 'resistance' organizations as per the Mecca Agreement (2/07) and the Cairo Declaration (3/05).

Policy Dilemmas

Israel has little influence over internal Palestinian politics and it is therefore doubtful whether it can prevent the establishment of a Palestinian Unity Government. Therefore, Israel should begin to evaluate the dilemmas such a government would pose. These dilemmas include:

Whether to Continue Negotiations? - A Unity Government would require Israel to reconsider whether to continue negotiations with the PLO. Despite Israel's reservations regarding a Unity Government, it will be difficult to resist the expected international opposition - especially American - to stopping the political process after its launch at the Annapolis summit.

  • If the Process Continues: What is its Aim? - On the one hand, Hamas is ideologically opposed to a Permanent Status Agreement that includes an End of Conflict with Israel. Therefore, the Unity Government is likely to foil any 'peace agreement', which is the declared aim of the Annapolis process. On the other hand, Hamas may - according to past statements by its leaders - accept a political agenda based on establishing a Palestinian State as part of a long-term interim agreement.

  • If the Process Ends: Does the Unilateral Option return? - One of the reasons for the freezing of the 'Convergence Plan' was the absence of a Palestinian 'address' in the West Bank with the capacity to fill the political-security vacuum following an Israeli unilateral withdrawal. A Fatah-Hamas Unity Government may strengthen the PA as an effective address in Gaza and the West Bank. Therefore, the combination between the creation of a Palestinian address and the demise of the political track may return the unilateral option to the table.

Return to the '3 Demands' Policy? - After Hamas' electoral victory (1/06), Israel placed '3 Demands' on the PA in return for lifting the boycott against it; the first one being the recognition of the State of Israel. Following the Mecca Agreement and the establishment of the previous Palestinian Unity Government (3-6/07), Israel continued to boycott Hamas ministers while continuing to cooperate with other PA ministers. Palestinian sources have blamed Israel's policy for paving the way to Hamas control over Gaza.

Military Operation in Gaza - In light of the continuing Kassam rocket fire and the strengthening of Hamas, there are growing calls for an Israeli military operation in the Strip. The establishment of a Unity Government is likely to make it harder for Israel to carry out such an operation against territory officially controlled by Abu Mazen.