Fatah deal leaves future of Hamas military wing unresolved

Both Palestinian organisations pressured from all sides at a time of extreme weakness

Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmad (right), head of the Fatah delegation, and Fatah colleague Rawhi Fattouh (second right), after signing a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation deal in Cairo today after the two rival Palestinian movements ended their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. Photograph: Khaled Desouki/AFP/Getty Images

The Egyptian-brokered Fatah-Hamas accord, portrayed as a breakthrough after a decade of bitter division, is partial rather than comprehensive – with the make-or-break issues of Hamas's military wing and fate of Hamas-appointed civil servants remaining to be resolved.

Both sides are under strong pressure from Egypt, the US and Israel to collect Hamas's weapons, demobilise Hamas's military units, restrict Hamas's role in a national unity government and reduce the presence of Hamas civil servants in the administration.

Fatah is, however, under countervailing pressure from Palestinians to reach compromises on these issues. Even Fatah members favour maintaining Hamas's military wing while putting it under the control of the unity government.

‘Collective national decision’

Fatah official Abbas Zaki told the daily Al-Sharq al-Awsat: "We believe that the weapons are needed and resistance is a duty, but we are seeking an agreement over the need for a collective national decision as the basis for the use of those weapons."


He argued that Fatah had not renounced the armed struggle, but said it should be based on national consensus.

Having suffered under Fatah's harsh and corrupt rule until 2007, Gazans want balance in both the unity government and Gaza's administration. They also demand an early end to sanctions imposed on Gaza that have cut the flow of electricity and reduced essential medical supplies.

Fatah and Hamas are negotiating at a time of extreme weakness. Fatah has failed to secure through negotiations the promised Palestinian state in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, while Hamas's attempts to employ military leverage on Israel to effect withdrawal from occupied territory have prompted devastating Israeli wars in 2008-09 and 2014.

Reconciliation effort

Their weakness has encouraged Egypt’s president, Abed al-Fattah al-Sisi, to mount this reconciliation effort, the 13th since 2005. He stands to regain international stature at a time when his regime is widely criticised for wholesale arrests of dissidents and other human rights abuses.

Sisi would also like Cairo to regain the leading regional role it lost when Egypt made a separate peace with Israel in 1979.

Although Israel is said to support reconciliation, prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu makes impossible demands of both Fatah and Hamas as the price of acceptance. He insists on the disbandment of Hamas's armed wing, as well as recognition by Hamas of Israel as a Jewish state. While unable to guarantee Hamas's disarmament, Fatah rejects the latter demand.

Netanyahu could become a spoiler if his requirements are not met. He could refuse to allow Gaza and the West Bank to reconnect by permitting Palestinians freedom of movement and to lift Israel’s siege and blockade of Gaza, preventing reconstruction and development. Unless Gaza residents benefit, they could turn against Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.