... for openness and credibility....

Whither Hamas-Fatah Rivalry

Everything seemed to indicate that a breakthrough had been achieved by Egyptian mediation efforts towards reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. This would have enabled them to resume cooperation and “Palestinian unity”. – But despite Fatah's official signing of the proposed agreement, Hamas leader Khaled Masha’al announced his movement's rejection of the reconciliation. 

The round of Egyptian mediation began in August this year and culminated in their consent to sign a "reconciliation agreement" on October 22. The signing, which would end their total split and pave the way for presidential and parliamentary elections on 28 June 2010, has now been delayed by several weeks. According to the agreement, eighty percent of the delegates to the Palestinian parliament would be elected on a party basis, and twenty percent by constituency. A special committee with delegates from all factions reporting to Chairman Abbas would assume control of the Gaza Strip and supervise the elections. The Gaza Strip was also to see the return of the Palestinian Authority (PA) the establishment of a new security force, staffed with members of all Palestinian factions.

However, given the depth of the conflict and the record of relations between the two, there is little reason to believe that reconciliation and political cooperation between them is possible

The two-decade long Fatah-Hamas conflict can hardly be seen as a 'normal' political competition between two movements over the soul of the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Their relations assume a 'zero-sum' nature due to the latter’s exclusivist Islamist ideology and interpretations concerning the legitimacy of power.

From the outset Hamas offered an alternative Islamic-nationalist vision and practice over the failed secular-nationalist strategy represented by the PLO and especially its leading element, Fatah. By the mid-1980s the PLO had lost its Lebanese territorial base and military option.  Without a realistic diplomatic option, it seemed to have lost its relevance as a national liberation movement, save its established foothold among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  Hamas had an advantage over the PLO/Fatah because truly emergence from within and, as an 'inside' movement, was by far more attentive to, and more familiar with the needs and grievances of the Palestinian society, particularly in the Gaza Strip.

The signing of the Oslo accord in 1993 came as a major psychological blow to Hamas, triggering fears of political elimination by Arafat's PA. But it turned out to be a baseless and hence, short-lived, fear. The perceived failure of the Oslo process and stained image of Fatah's leadership as dysfunctional, corrupt and stagnant led to unprecedented rise in Hamas's popularity.   This was further augmented by Israel's military retaliation to suicide attacks by Palestinians and systematic destruction of the PA security-bureaucratic infrastructure. Under these conditions Hamas managed to increase its military capabilities and armaments. By early 2003, large areas of the Gaza Strip were out of reach for the PA’s police and security apparatuses and came under effective, even exclusive, control of Hamas.

During the Oslo years (1993-2000) Hamas adhered to a policy of official boycott of the political process conducted by the PA on grounds of its resistance to the Oslo accords as a whole. But the decease of Arafat in November 2004 and consequent decision to conduct new presidential and parliamentary elections found Hamas willing to take part in the elections. It explained change of attitude by the independence of the elections from the Oslo accords.

The electoral victory of Hamas in January 2006 represented a regime change, not just a change of government, which shocked the already tense Hamas-PA/Fatah relations and entangled the other protagonists of the Oslo accords. Though Hamas welcomed a unity government with all other Palestinian factions, including Fatah, the latter refused the offer leaving Hamas alone to cope with its new responsibilities toward the constituency, Israel and the international community, and effectively expecting its fall. Officially, the PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas could not deny Hamas the right to establish and lead the new government.

Representing the core of the Palestinian national movement from its very inception, Fatah in fact never acquiesced in the rise to power of Hamas. The underlying feud between them could hardly be concealed as both claimed exclusive authority over the security apparatuses and financial resources. The dispute resulted in a de-facto split of authority, with the Hamas government establishing its own security force, mostly from its own military ranks.

The takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas in June 2007 by what the PA/Fatah officials called a 'coup', created a new reality of two separate regimes in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, respectively, thus adding a new factor into the geopolitical reality of territorially separate Palestinian areas. Indeed, the Gaza Strip was  disadvantaged in relation to the West Bank, especially in terms of size, economic resources and development opportunities, population density and social conditions, and political tradition of the Egyptian military rule  on the one hand, and the Jordanian annexation and integration of the West Bank into the East Bank, on the other. The total government split of the PA from the Gaza Strip has severely deepened since June 2007. This might constitute a major obstacle for any future political and economic reunification of these two territories. 


Thus it is not entirely clear whether Hamas and Fatah are at all genuinely interested in reconciliation and 'national unity' because in fact each of them yearns for survival and the fall of its rival. Regardless of kinship ties and national identity, the main implication of the continuous separation between the West Bank and Gaza Strip is their growing distance and deepening entrenchment of each regime in its own reality.


Professor Avraham Sela, author of several works on Hamas, teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.


Also carried by New Indian Express 27 October 2009

As part of its editorial policy, the MEI@ND standardizes spelling and date formats to make the text uniformly accessible and stylistically consistent. The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views/positions of the MEI@ND. Editor, MEI@ND: P R Kumaraswamy