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The Palestinian Reconciliation: For Better or Worse?

Salamanca Group

Salamanca Group's Global Risk Bulletin

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On 23 April, representatives of Fatah and Hamas, the two main rival Palestinian factions within the Palestinian Authority (PA), signed a reconciliation deal. The deal comes seven years after Hamas’ takeover of Gaza following a power struggle over the result of parliamentary elections. Thus far, it has resulted in Israel’s enforcement of new economic sanctions against the PA and its withdrawal from the latest round of US-brokered peace negotiations. Israel says it will not negotiate with Hamas, which it designates as a terrorist organisation. The newly reconciled Palestinian leaders are now expected to name a consensus government of technocrats before general elections – five years overdue – are held by the end of the year.

Although international observers have focused on the immediate negative consequences of the deal, a long-lasting reconciliation could have a positive effect on both Palestinian and Israeli security. In many ways, the deal can be seen as a capitulation by Hamas. Following the Syrian revolution and the outlawing of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas lost much of the backing of Iran, Syria, Egypt and the Gulf. With the humanitarian situation in Gaza deteriorating, Hamas is seeking an alternative to political isolation, making it more accommodating to Fatah’s diplomatic position.

If successful, the deal will diminish the risk of terrorism in Israel. While Israel’s sanctions on the PA are likely to lead to popular demonstrations in the West Bank, the PA will advance the efforts already began by Hamas to strengthen its hand over Gaza-based militant groups. This will be particularly important for any future Palestinian coalition, not only because the PA will now be held responsible for any attacks emanating from either the West Bank or Gaza, but also because any attack by Palestinian militants targeting the settlements or mainland Israel will acutely escalate the risk of military intervention against the Palestinian Territories.

The reconciliation has similar implications for wider regional security. Egypt, who acted as mediator between the two Palestinian factions, has welcomed Hamas’ shift towards Palestinian nationalist issues and away from its Brotherhood identity. Hamas’ stepping down as the primary authority in Gaza would likely temper the situation at the Rafah border between Gaza and Egypt and improve security in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Alternatively, should the reconciliation fail, Egypt will strongly tighten its control at the border in order to completely isolate Hamas and prevent the movement of fighters to the Sinai.

The endurance of the Fatah-Hamas deal depends on the resolution of a number of existing fault lines. The international community is yet to agree on a common line, and it remains to be seen whether Western powers will intervene and thwart the recognition of a Fatah-Hamas coalition.
In the short term, Hamas is unlikely to accept the conditions imposed by Western powers for the recognition of a Palestinian government. In particular, it has stated that it will not recognise the state of Israel and that it still regards armed resistance as a means to end the occupation. However, while Israel sees these as deal breakers for any peace negotiations, it may not be necessary for Hamas to comply with these points for a Palestinian coalition government to be recognised. As long as the coalition abides by the above conditions as a whole, which is expected to be the case, there is no international requirement for each party to do so individually. In other words, the Palestinians could follow the Lebanese model where Hezbollah, a Shi’a political party and militant group, is represented in the government despite being listed as a terrorist organisation by Western powers.

Should the deal ultimately collapse, an outcome that is unlikely to surprise the Palestinian population, the PA may choose to dissolve itself in response to its inability to fulfil its governing mandate - a threat it has made in recent weeks. The dissolution of the PA would result in a power vacuum that would seriously threaten Palestinian political stability, with some even suggesting that it could trigger a third intifada. However, this move is currently not in the interest of either the Palestinian or Israeli side. Under this scenario, Israel would become fully responsible for the Palestinian Territories both politically and financially, a situation that would aggravate economic grievances and lead to protests from supporters of Israel as a Jewish-majority state.

While important fault lines exist and previous failed attempts at Palestinian cooperation leave many wondering how long the agreement will last, the Fatah-Hamas deal is in the interest of both sides and has a real chance of improving stability in the region. The response of Western powers and international organisations will be crucial for a successful reconciliation and the avoidance of an escalation in violence between the various factions. A number of unanswered questions remain, but what is now clear is that no future negotiation with Israel is likely to succeed without Hamas’ support.

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Also in the latest issue of Salamanca Group’s Global Risk Bulletin:

“Moscow Calling: The Crisis in Ukraine and its Implications for the Baltic States”: Russian intervention in Ukraine has alarmed the international community, not least Russia’s Baltic neighbours to the West. While any military incursion is unlikely, the Baltic States remain vulnerable to Russia’s destabilising influence, writes Ted Cowell.

“Eastern Africa: Mapping the Region’s Growing Insecurity”: Weak governments and miscalculated counter-terrorism strategies have contributed to a recent upsurge in terrorist attacks in eastern Africa. While international allegiances have the potential to combat terrorist threats, inward-looking policies and entrenched ethnic divisions threaten to undermine security initiatives in the region, writes Sharon Cheramboss.
 
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