Fatah and Hamas seek to end longstanding feud

Rival Palestinian movements attempt to reconcile after 10 years of open hostility

Hamas’s overall leader Ismail Haniya waves as he arrives for a meeting with Palestinian officials in Gaza City. Photograph: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

Fatah and Hamas delegations are set to meet in Cairo next week to discuss the implementation of a deal to end the rift between the rival Palestinian movements and reinstate in Gaza the rule of the Palestinian Authority, which is controlled in the West Bank by Fatah.

The Egyptian-mediated talks follow Tuesday’s session of the Palestinian cabinet in Gaza, the first such meeting in years. Last month, Hamas shut down its de-facto government in the territory to pave the way for reconciliation between the movements after 30 years of rivalry and 10 of outright hostility.

Although Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has welcomed the breakthrough, he plans to lift sanctions on Gaza only if negotiations are successful. Cairo is exerting strong pressure on Hamas, a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot, to cede to Abbas's demands, while Israel's sceptical prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has dismissed "bogus reconciliations . . . at the expense of Israel's existence".

Success cannot be guaranteed. The process could collapse over Abbas's insistence that Hamas disbands its military wing, under the slogan, "one state, one regime, one law and one weapon". So far, Hamas has resisted the demand, but unless Hamas is defanged Ramallah's security forces cannot regain control in Gaza and Israel will not ease its siege and blockade of the territory or permit freedom of movement between Gaza and the West Bank.

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The sides need to resolve differences over the salaries of Hamas-appointed civil servants and funding of electricity for Gaza. The Palestinian Authority must also raise funds for Gaza's reconstruction. As well as this, the sides have to tackle the future of Mohammed Dahlan, Fatah's former strongman in Gaza who, with Egypt's president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has played a leading role in the reconciliation process.

Wanted in Ramallah for corruption and reviled in Gaza, Abu Dhabi exile Dahlan is seeking a senior post in Gaza and sees himself as a potential successor to 82-year-old Abbas.

This, the 13th attempt at reconciliation, is driven by weakness. Fatah's Abbas, whose presidential term expired in 2009, staked Palestine's fate on Israeli withdrawal from territory occupied in 1967. Although it pulled out of Gaza in 2005, Israel has settled 620,000 Israelis in total in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Initially welcomed as a liberator from Dahlan’s corrupt and violent rule, Hamas itself has been corrupted, while Gaza has suffered from the Israeli blockade and two major Israeli army offensives. In a bid to put pressure on Hamas, Fatah has deprived Gaza of fuel for electricity and medical supplies and cut civil servants’ salaries. By inflicting punishment on Gaza’s 2.2 million people, Abbas has angered and alienated Palestinians everywhere.

First Intifada

The Fatah-Hamas rivalry began during the First Intifada (1987-93), when Hamas emerged as a resistance movement and challenged the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). The split was solidified when Hamas rejected the 1993 Oslo Accord, negotiated by the PLO and Israel, and vowed never to recognise or make peace with Israel.

The rift deepened in 2000 after the Oslo process failed to deliver Palestinian statehood, triggering the Second Intifada. Reconciliation efforts began in 2005 with the aim of ending clashes between Palestinian factions and granting Hamas and Islamic Jihad membership of the PLO. A dozen failed unification attempts followed, brokered, at different times, by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Qatar and Yemen.

These efforts failed largely due to Fatah’s refusal to share power with Hamas after it had won a majority of seats in the Palestinian legislature in the 2006 election and after Hamas’s forces expelled Fatah’s security forces from Gaza in 2007 during an attempt mounted by Dahlan to crush Hamas.

Reconciliation became possible this spring when Hamas renounced its hard line by agreeing on a Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, indirectly recognising Israel.