Hamas amends its charter to court Fatah and gain admission to the PLO

As the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem approaches, Fatah and Hamas are under popular pressure to reconcile

The new leader of Hamas movement in Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar (left) and Hamas senior leader Sheikh Ismaeil Haneiya   during a news conference in Doha, Qatar, announcing the new Hamas policy document. Photograph: EPA/Mohammed Saber

The new leader of Hamas movement in Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar (left) and Hamas senior leader Sheikh Ismaeil Haneiya during a news conference in Doha, Qatar, announcing the new Hamas policy document. Photograph: EPA/Mohammed Saber

 

Hamas’s decision to amend its charter by accepting the creation of a Palestinian state in territories occupied by Israel in 1967 is nothing new.

By formalising this policy, the movement, which rules Gaza, hopes to improve prospects for reconciliation with Fatah, administrator of Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank, and secure admission to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), which was founded by the Arab League in 1964 to “liberate” Palestine and has been dominated by Fatah since 1968.

Since 2005, Palestinian factions and regional powers have tried and failed a dozen times to reconcile Hamas, formed as a resistance organisation in 1987 at the start of the first Intifada, and the PLO, which has been dominated by Fatah since 1968.

Reconciliation failed because Hamas rejected the Fatah-negotiated peace process launched by the PLO’s 1988 declaration of independence in a “mini state” in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, rather than calling for liberation of all Palestine. The rift deepened after the PLO signed the 1993 Oslo Accord, which was intended to secure the state through negotiations instead of armed struggle.

Following Hamas’s landslide victory in the 2006 Palestinian legislative election, president Mahmoud Abbas rejected the result, refused to allow Hamas lawmakers to attend parliament in Ramallah, and ordered Fatah-appointed civil servants to boycott their jobs while continuing to receive pay.

At the same time the Quartet on the Middle East – comprising the US, EU, Russia and the UN – demanded that Hamas end resistance against Israel, recognise Israel and accept agreements reached between the PLO and Israel.

Hamas agreed in September 2006 on a long-term truce (hudna) with Israel and to accept PLO-Israeli agreements. It also indirectly recognised Israel and agreed to the mini-state by committing to the 2002 Arab summit initiative offering peace in exchange for Israeli withdrawal from Arab territory occupied in 1967.

Hamas’s concessions were rejected by Israel, the US and EU. Fatah-sponsored turmoil in Gaza, and an attempted coup in June 2007 by Fatah’s Gaza strongman Mohamed Dahlan, led to Hamas’s seizure of power and Fatah’s expulsion from Gaza.

Since then Hamas has repeatedly called for reconciliation with Fatah and formation of unity governments, and reiterated its acceptance of a truce with Israel, the mini-state and PLO/Fatah accords with Israel. These concessions have been made in spite of continued Israeli occupation and the collapse of negotiations with Israel, as well as Israel’s 2008-09 and 2014 wars on Gaza and its siege and blockade of the coastal strip.

As the 50th anniversary of the Israeli occupation of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem approaches, Fatah and Hamas are under popular pressure to reconcile. Both have lost support and credibility due to their failure to deliver a Palestinian state, Fatah through negotiations and Hamas through armed action.

Considered impotent and corrupt by many Palestinians, Fatah has come under pressure to reunify ranks from a hunger strike by hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

Pressure on Hamas has been ratcheted up by Egypt, Israel, western powers, and Fatah to agree to the return of the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority to Gaza in exchange for PLO membership. To court Cairo, Hamas has dropped reference in its charter to its parent movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, which is outlawed in Egypt.

The Palestinian Authority has exerted fresh leverage by cutting salaries of Fatah-appointed civil servants in Gaza, discontinuing funding for hospitals, medical equipment and medicines, imposing heavy taxes on fuel for Gaza and announcing it will no longer pay for electricity Israel supplies to Gaza, threatening to exacerbate an already severe shortage.

The local power plant has ceased operation due to a lack of fuel, Egyptian power lines are down and two million Gazans, 80 per cent of whom live below the poverty line, currently have three to six hours of electricity a day. If Israel halts supplies, hospitals, factories, schools, and water purification and sewage plants could cease functioning, plunging Gaza into a new dark age.

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