As Palestinians unite in anger, pressure grows on Fatah and Hamas to reconcile


ANALYSIS:Israeli aggression has undermined prospects for peace talks and boosted extremists, writes Michael Jansen

ISRAEL’S USE of force against the flotilla of boats seeking to deliver aid to Gaza has reaffirmed popular Palestinian unity and strengthened pressure on Fatah and Hamas to reconcile.

The Saudi and Egyptian governments, which have been promoting reconciliation, are likely to revive their efforts to get the divided Palestinians to quickly resolve their differences and establish a solid front to counter Israeli policies and actions regarded as harmful to the entire Palestinian people.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the West Bank-based Fatah movement, roundly condemned the raid as “piracy” and called for three days of mourning. This amounted to a decisive shift in policy.

During Israel’s 2008-2009 war on Gaza, Mr Abbas kept his distance and held Hamas responsible for giving Israel a casus belli. This attitude made him very unpopular, causing Mr Abbas to moderate his tone since. His denunciation of the Israeli attack could clear the atmosphere between Fatah and Hamas.

Reports at the weekend that Mr Abbas was planning a visit to Gaza, his first since 2006, were denied by government spokesman Ghassan Khatib. But sources suggest he could consider making such a trip, a first step towards reconciliation. The way has been prepared by senior Fatah figure Nabil Shaath and billionaire Munib Masri, a confidant of Mr Abbas.

Gaza’s de facto prime minister Ismail Haniyeh, who has repeatedly reached out to Fatah, urged the Muslim world to “rise up” in protest and called on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to halt US-brokered indirect talks with Israel.

Most Palestinians do not have faith in these talks and oppose PA participation unless Israel halts all settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Thus, the violence Israel used against passengers on the flotilla has made it all the more difficult for the PA to carry on with the talks, particularly since most Palestinians say they do not see any benefits from the peace process.

Israel’s action has boosted the standing of Muslim extremist groups in Gaza, thereby weakening Hamas’s grip on security.

These groups, which oppose the cessation of hostilities with Israel, have recently tried to undermine Hamas, which has imposed a ceasefire, by lobbing rockets into southern Israel and burning a UN summer camp for underprivileged refugee children.

Popular Palestinian anger over the attack on the flotilla is likely to encourage Palestinians to join the boycott of Israeli settlement goods and to urge workers employed on settlements to quit and seek jobs in the Palestinian private sector.

The raid also put Egypt in a difficult position because it has partially enforced the blockade imposed by Israel. Many Egyptians strongly oppose Cairo’s participation in the blockade and criticise the government for its co-operation with Israel.