Yaakov Katz
The Jerusalem Post (Opinion)
May 5, 2011 - 12:00am

At the beginning of the year, Hamas and Fatah were close to signing a reconciliation agreement brokered by Egypt. At the last minute, however, Khaled Mashaal, leader of Hamas’s political wing, which is based in Damascus, nixed the deal.

But then the ground shook in Syria and he suddenly changed his mind. As the fate of his patron, Syrian President Bashar Assad, hung in the balance, Mashaal made a calculated tactical decision to try and ensure his political survival by approving the reconciliation deal, which just months earlier he had conspicuously rejected.

This is one of the reasons why, according to Israel, the chances are slim that the reconciliation agreement signed between Fatah and Hamas on Wednesday will last.

Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) chief Yuval Diskin referred to the disagreements over Hamas’s desire to regain a foothold in the West Bank and Fatah’s desire to regain a foothold in the Gaza Strip as just the beginning of the disagreements between the sides.

Attempts at establishing a Palestinian national unity government are not new and have been ongoing since Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007.

The senior Fatah official, Azzam al-Ahmad, who brokered the current agreement was also behind the failed attempts at reconciliation known as the Yemen Agreement of 2008 and the Mecca Agreement of 2007. The expectation in Israel is that Wednesday’s Cairo Agreement will end the same way.

What changed and made the deal happen on Wednesday is the ongoing upheaval in the Middle East and Hamas’s concern that if Assad falls, it will lose its logistical and political support. It is also concerned by the possibility that the riots spreading across the Middle East will eventually reach Gaza, where the Palestinian people will protest not against Israel but against Hamas. Reconciliation with Fatah makes it seem as if the Palestinians are on the verge of a new and better beginning.

These might be good reasons for Hamas to make the deal, but they do not represent a significant change in its policy or ideology. Despite the agreement with Fatah, Hamas leaders continue to call for war with Israel, which Mashaal described on Wednesday as Hamas and Fatah’s common enemy.

This is why Israel can make a strong case against the new government. Following Hamas’s election victory in 2006, the Quartet set three conditions for the terrorist group to receive international legitimacy: recognize Israel’s right to exist, recognize previous agreements between Israel and the PLO, and cease terrorism. Hamas refused to meet those conditions then and continues to refuse today.

Instead, it has made a tactical decision that it hopes will provide it with a semblance of quiet and stability at least until the end of the year.

With Assad possibly on the verge of falling, Hamas might need to find a new haven – possibly in Jordan, Qatar or even Egypt.

The announcement by Sheikh Yousef al- Qaradawi – the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s spiritual godfather – that he supports the Syrian Sunnis in their fight against Assad and the Alawites has forced Mashaal and Hamas – the Muslim Brotherhood’s offshoot – to decide whose side they are on.

On the other hand, the world is not necessarily overly interested in the intricacies of the deal, and all Hamas and Fatah really need to do is retain a façade of unity until the unilateral declaration of statehood at the United Nations in September.

The national unity government that is to be established now, and supposedly led by professionals, will help PA President Mahmoud Abbas make a stronger case for statehood at the UN by showing the world that the Palestinian people are united.

For Israel, this will be a difficult argument to counter, particularly when peace talks remain deadlocked and are basically nonexistent.


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