Diana Atallah
The Media Line
January 3, 2013 - 1:00am


When the Fatah faction holds what is expected to be a huge demonstration marking its 48th anniversary in Gaza, it will mark another step towards reconciliation with its rival Hamas faction in a dispute that continues despite occasional let-ups.


The two factions continue to be at loggerheads over control of the Gaza Strip, controlled by Hamas, and the West Bank, controlled by Fatah, despite periodic attempts to resolve the conflict and what some observers see as improving chances for reconciliation.


In this case, Hamas agreed to allow Fatah to hold its celebrations at the Saraya Complex, but not at the large Al-Kateeba Square in a dispute which almost saw the cancellation of the celebration.


A high-ranking Fatah official told The Media Line that Hamas didn't want the Fatah celebration to be held at the large, open square out of fear it would be huge and threaten Hamas's popularity in Gaza.


On the other hand, when Hamas's green flags were hoisted in the West Bank on December 8 to celebrate its 25th anniversary, it marked the first time in five years Hamas activists were allowed to do so by the ruling Fatah faction.


Fatah officials attended Hamas's celebrations held in several West Bank cities. Hamas supporters were also allowed to organize demonstrations on the West Bank celebrating the "triumph of the resistance" in the Gaza Strip after Israel's Pillar of Defense was launched against rocket launchers inGaza on November 14, 2012.


Mass demonstrations have occasionally proven deadly in the past, however. The last Fatah celebration held in late December 2007 in the Gaza Strip left dozens dead and wounded after clashes erupted between Fatah supporters and Hamas security personnel. Hamas was reportedly banned by Fatah from hosting their anniversary celebration in the West Bank that same month.


Since then, the two factions had not been allowed to organize rallies in their opponent's territories.


The tension between Fatah and Hamas peaked after Hamas took over rule of Gaza in June 2007, disbanding a unity government formed with Fatah and dismissing its officials. Hamas had won the majority in the 2006 parliamentary elections but justified the armed takeover by saying Fatah officials didn't allow for a democratic transition in rule in Gaza.


Now, however, current events are yielding an improved opportunity for reconciliation. Hani Habib, a political analyst, told The Media Line: "The Gaza battle and the Palestinian success at the United Nations created a better atmosphere for reconciliation. Now both parties think they are talking from a position of power."


Fatah Revolutionary Council Secretary General Amin Maqboul told The Media Line that the decision allowing Hamas's celebrations last December on the West Bank came after Hamas allowed Gazans to take to the streets in support of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's obtaining "observer state" status  for Palestine at the United Nations.


"We have been interested in achieving national unity since the beginning and have made several sacrifices because we believe that reconciliation is in our strategic interest," he said.


Hamas spokesman in the Gaza Strip Fawzi Barhoum told The Media Line that both parties need each other in the face of the current deadlock in talks with Israel, plans to build further on land acquired byIsrael in 1967, and the expulsion of Jerusalemites. "One party by itself is incapable of facing these challenges," he added.


Barhoum said Israel is targeting Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank by increased building and checkpoints and withholding Palestinian tax revenues.


Observers say attempts at reconciliation have failed so far because Hamas has not yet been given decent representation in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the Palestinians' highest political body. Fatah wants national elections to be held first before this Hamas demand is granted.


Although the two factions seem closer to each other, observers believe Fatah and Hamas have simply reached an agreement to manage the split between them without ending it. "A matter as simple as the venue of Fatah's celebrations [Friday] required long negotiations and the celebrations were about to be cancelled. So how will the two factions agree on much more difficult issues," Habib asked.


Fatah and Hamas officials denied that the recent changes in attitude between the two factions were simply cosmetic, but said that the reconciliation attempts need a positive atmosphere and good-will measures. Maqboul declared that his Fatah party is implementing just such measures towards reconciliation.


Hamas's Barhoum, however, accused Fatah of continuing to arrest Hamas supporters in the West Bank. "The Palestinian Authority is also continuing its security coordination with Israel, but we decided to rise above these issues for the sake of reconciliation," he said.


So while there appears to be an increase in trust between the two factions, Habib told The Media Linethat, aside from parades, for now the facts on the ground have not changed.


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