The world waits with bated breath as the marriage counsellor - Egypt - frantically tries to bring Fatah and Hamas to the mosque to renew their vows once again after a particularly bruising and public slanging match that has seen the West Bank and Gaza split into separate Hamas and Fatah fiefdoms whilst supporters of both factions have been murdered, imprisoned, tortured, discriminated against and had their legs broken over the past two years.
The situation in the past year alone is best summarized by the Cairo Institute For Human Rights Studies in its December 2009 Report titled “Bastion of Immunity, Mirage of Reform” :
“Under the cover of the war in Gaza, Hamas embarked on several repressive measures targeting Fatah members, figures who oppose Hamas’ rule, and suspected collaborators with Israel, and it is suspected that dozens of people were killed, either shot to death or as a result of torture. Hamas personnel also broke the legs and arms of dozens of other people to compel them to stay in their homes. Also, some government employees in Gaza were replaced with Hamas loyalists.
In the West Bank, under the authority of Fatah, hundreds of Hamas sympathizers remain in detention; it is thought that at least two of the detainees have died as a result of torture. The West Bank authorities fired civil servants and teachers suspected of Hamas sympathies, while the salaries of thousands of employees of the Palestinian authority inside the Gaza Strip were suspended. Licensing for associations and companies in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip is now preceded by a security check,and those organizations that have affiliations with the “wrong” party are refused Licenses.”
News reports are very confusing concerning the progress reached by these two antagonists in becoming reconciled once again with each other.
Sri Lanka’s Daily News reports that Hamas head Khaled Meshall visited Saudi Arabia on 2nd January and told Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Affairs Minister:
“We made great steps forward reconciliation,”
though he made clear that Hamas still has some points to settle regarding the Egyptian reconciliation proposal which was made last October and unconditionally signed by Fatah in Cairo but not by Hamas since then.
On the other hand Xinhua News Agency reported that Mohamed Dahlan a member of the Fatah Central Committee ruled out any forthcoming reconciliation stating:
"Hamas movement is the only party that obstructs reaching an inter-Palestinian reconciliation deal… it is also because that Hamas stance is controlled by regional powers."
He was no doubt referring to Hamas’s financial backers, arms suppliers and exporters of terrorism - Syria and Iran.
Yet any delay in reconciling was denied by Hamas spokesman - Ahmed Yousef - who said that reports that Hamas does not want to sign the Egyptian reconciliation protocol are:
“… untrue and rootless. Hamas leaders are ready to go to Cairo once they are invited to sign the pact. Hamas movement doesn’t want to make any change in the text of the Egyptian drafted pact of reconciliation. However, there are some notes that need to be clarified and amended through a session of dialogue, then Hamas will sign the reconciliation agreement"
No doubt any such side understandings will be not be made public making any publicly revealed document not worth the paper it is written on.
However Egypt may not be issuing an invite to Hamas to visit Cairo very soon following protests over an international aid convoy to Gaza, led by George Galloway, which turned violent on 6 January at the border between Egypt and Gaza killing one Egyptian soldier and leaving dozens injured.
Egypt has also come under fire recently from Hamas for stepping up efforts along the Egyptian border to stop tunnel smugglers from moving supplies into Gaza. Egypt’s construction of an underground barrier to cut off the tunnels has drawn criticism from a number of neighbouring Arab states, who call the barrier a “wall of death.”
Egypt maintains that it is protecting its borders, and that aid to Gaza should be sent via internationally recognized channels.
Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas is certain to have further exacerbated relations with Hamas by telling Kuwait Times on 6 January:
"They (Egypt) have a right to protect their borders," he said, hinting the tunnels were being "misused".
The international community is certainly anxious to see the reconciliation take place as soon as possible. European Union Foreign Affairs supremo Catherine Ashton told the Strasbourg Parliament on 15 December 2009:
“Today, however, the Palestinians are divided both politically and physically. Credible negotiations require a strong and united Palestinian partner. Israel stands to gain, not lose from a strong Palestinian partner.”
I doubt that Israel will see it this way. Any idea of negotiating on the future status of the West Bank with a team containing any Hamas members would be a certain “no-no”. Israel regards Hamas as a terrorist organization and would be extremely reluctant to engage in negotiations with a joint Fatah-Hamas team.
Israel’s national interest must surely be best served by keeping Hamas from gaining any position of power, control or influence in the West Bank.
Hamas has also made it clear that it will never negotiate with Israel. On 21 June 2008 Hamas spokesman Ismail Radwan slammed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and told Xinhua News Agency :
"We are not thinking of trying the ridiculous negotiations that the others have tried but failed to remove a single checkpoint in West Bank….
"the Zionist enemy must depart and recognize the Palestinian people’s rights."
Article 13 of the Hamas Covenant 1988 also makes this refusal to negotiate with Israel abundantly clear in stating:
“There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavours."
All in all the prospects of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah look very bleak indeed - especially when one looks at the provisions of Article 27 of the Hamas Covenant which make it clear that Hamas is opposed to a secular State of Palestine as proposed by Fatah - the major organization that controls the Palestine Liberation Organization:
"Secularism completely contradicts religious ideology. Attitudes, conduct and decisions stem from ideologies. That is why, with all our appreciation for the Palestinian Liberation Organization - and what it can develop into - and without belittling its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, we are unable to exchange the present or future Islamic Palestine with the secular idea. The Islamic nature of Palestine is part of our religion and whoever takes his religion lightly is a loser. The day the Palestinian Liberation Organization adopts Islam as its way of life, we will become its soldiers, and fuel for its fire that will burn the enemies.”
Therein lies the basic problem forever preventing any lasting reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah - unless Fatah abandons the secular State and adopts the formation of an Islamic State as its goal.
For Hamas to also give up - and surrender - its present territorial power over Gaza to Fatah seems a most improbable scenario.
If however Hamas and Fatah were - for whatever reason - to eventually reach a reconciliation of convenience they would certainly not be sleeping in the same bedroom. Neither could possibly trust the other after what has occurred between them over the past two years.