The news that the two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, appear to have reconciled may be a very big deal. Or perhaps not. Hamas and Fatah have been at each other’s throats since the 2006 elections. Blood has been shed on both sides. And a full reconciliation won’t really have taken place until there are new elections–and no firm date has been set for those yet.
Still, this announcement is extremely significant for several reasons:
1. It increases the Israeli government’s disquiet in this Arab spring. The previously stable borders with Egypt, Syria and perhaps even Jordan may not be stable much longer. The benign West Bank security situation may become more hostile. Relations with between Israel and Mahmoud Abbas will surely take a nosedive. As Benyamin Netanyahu says in the attached clip: Abbas had a choice. He could make peace with Israel or make peace with Hamas, but not both.
2. In terms of sheer political survival, though, Abbas had no choice–especially after recent leaks to Al Jazeera showed Palestinian negotiators making concessions to Israel that most Palestinians weren’t aware of. Abbas couldn’t appear to be willing to make concessions to the Israelis and reject the overtures from his fellow Palestinians. This is a clever play on Hamas’s part–its leaders see the tide running their way and are confident that they will win any election in Gaza and also, increasingly so, on the West Bank.
3. This profoundly changes the global Middle East peace game. Can Barack Obama now come out in favor of a comprehensive Middle East peace with Palestinians sworn to Israel’s destruction? I don’t think so. Does Prime Minister Netanyahu have to yield to such international pressure, in advance of the probable UN vote to declare Palestine a state in December? I don’t think so–especially with the uncertainties caused by Arab spring on every one of Israel’s borders. I suspect that nothing less than a formal Hamas declaration of Israel’s right to exist would bring the Israelis to the peace table anytime soon.
3. It should be noted that Egypt, which had been trying to effect this reconciliation for years, was the broker. That means the new military government is already active diplomatically–and in a project that can not help but displease the Israelis.
I’ll have a lot more about this situation in the next few days.