The Fatah-Hamas peace process
On Monday afternoon, the Palestinians destroyed officially whatever was left of the concept of a peace process with Israel.
When PA Chairman and Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas signed a deal with Hamas terror-master Khaled Mashaal in Doha, Qatar, the notion that there is a significant segment of Palestinian society that is not committed to the destruction of Israel was finally and truly sunk.
But before the ink on the agreement had a chance to dry, the peace processors were already spewing bromides whose sole purpose was to deny this inarguable conclusion. Both the Obama administration and the EU claimed that the agreement is an internal Palestinian issue. The EU actually welcomed the deal.
As Foreign Policy Commissioner Catherine Ashton’s spokesman put it, “The EU has consistently called for intra-Palestinian reconciliation behind President Mahmoud Abbas as an important element for the unity of a future Palestinian state and for reaching a two-state solution.”
The Israeli Left was quick to blame the agreement on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
In an apparent bid to inject a bit of reality into the delusional discourse, Netanyahu condemned the pact. As he put it, “If Abbas moves to implement what was signed today in Doha, he will abandon the path of peace and join forces with the enemies of peace.”
Netanyahu added a personal appeal to his supposed partner in peace saying, “President Abbas, you can’t have it both ways. It’s either a pact with Hamas or peace with Israel. It’s one or the other.”
Netanyahu’s statement was a nice start. But it didn’t go nearly far enough. In speaking as he did, Netanyahu obscured the fact that Abbas already made his choice. He has cast his lot and that of Fatah with Hamas. In so doing Abbas once more exposed the dirty secret that everyone knows but no one likes to discuss: Fatah and Hamas share the same strategic goal of destroying Israel. Fatah is not a moderate force that accepts a peaceful resolution of the Palestinian conflict with Israel. It is a terrorist organization and a political warfare organization. Fatah’s strategic goal remains what it has been since it was founded in 1959: The obliteration of the Jewish state.
In truth, Monday’s agreement is nothing new. Fatah and Hamas have worked together since at least 1994. In November 1994, Hamas and Fatah signed an agreement in Cairo. The agreement set out each side’s sphere of responsibility. Fatah would negotiate with Israel and Hamas would attack Israel.
That Cairo agreement was but the first in a line of agreements between the two groups. Each new agreement in turn reflected both their shared goal of destroying Israel and their changing tactical preferences.
In 2000, for instance, when Fatah returned to active terrorism against Israel, Fatah and Hamas set up joint terror cells they called the Popular Resistance Committees.
In 2007, they signed their first unity government deal after Hamas defeated Fatah in the 2006 legislative elections. That deal not only set the terms for cooperation in the PA. It paved the way for Hamas’s inclusion in the PLO. Since the PLO rather than the PA or Fatah is the signatory to the agreements with Israel, the 2007 agreement signaled Fatah’s willingness to abrogate its treaties with Israel.
After Hamas ousted Fatah personnel from Gaza in June 2007, the unity deal was left unimplemented. But even as their gunmen shot at one another on the streets, Fatah and Hamas remained strategic allies. Fatah continued to finance Hamas and provide political support for its continued missile and terror war against Israel.
Last May, Abbas signed another unity deal with Hamas. Like the 2007 deal, the pact set the conditions for Hamas’s integration into the PLO and so placed the Palestinians on course for canceling all the agreements that the PLO has signed with Israel since 1993. In the months that passed since, the sides have been diligently working out the means of enacting their unity deal. Those contacts brought about another agreement signed in Cairo in December. That pact laid out the steps for integrating Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the PLO. The first step involved setting up a temporary PLO leadership. This step was implemented last month. The transitional leadership is now organizing new elections to the PLO’s legislative body, which in turn will appoint the executive.
December’s agreement also set out the basis for the interim unity government agreement that was signed on Monday. The sole charge of the transitional PA government is to organize elections for the PA’s legislature and its chairmanship.
SO MONDAY’S agreement doesn’t represent a break with past Fatah behavior, but a continuation of it. The notable aspect of Monday’s agreement is that it shows just how drastically the balance of power has tilted towards Hamas and away from Fatah since 1994.
Since Monday, the usual crowd of peace processors has come up with a number of arguments to deny the significance of the latest Hamas-Fatah rapprochement. One of their favorite claims is that the deal with Fatah is proof that Hamas is becoming more moderate.
For instance, Shlomo Brom, an inveterate peace processor from the Institute of National Security Studies, told JTA, “Hamas is moving away from Syria and Iran, and to a certain degree from Hezbollah, and is repositioning itself in line with the popular movements behind the Arab Spring and the democratization process, particularly in Egypt and Tunisia. A renewed push for reconciliation with Fatah should be seen as part of this reorientation.”
To make this claim, Brom had to ignore the fact that “the popular movements behind the Arab Spring” are jihadist movements from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Since December, all of Hamas’s leaders have made public statements underscoring that the movement’s goal remains the destruction of Israel and that its chosen means of attaining that goal is terrorism and war.
Hamas’s leaders have also been clear that they view their current rapprochement with Fatah as a means to overwhelm and defeat Fatah. As the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs’ senior researcher Jonathan Halevi showed in recent studies of this week’s deal and the December agreement, Hamas’s goal in entering the PLO is to abrogate the PLO’s treaties with Israel. Its goal in joining a unity government with Fatah is to organize elections. Hamas is expected to win both the PA’s presidential and legislative elections in a landslide.
Another argument that the Left is making is that since Monday’s deal made Abbas the PA prime minister as well as its president, the agreement is proof that he is strong and therefore, it’s terrific. As Haaretz editorialized on Wednesday, Netanyahu is irresponsible and destructive because, “Instead of welcoming the bolstered status of a leader who signed the Oslo Accords and reined in terror in the West Bank, Netanyahu opted to present the deal as a capitulation by the PA to a terrorist organization.”
This argument ignores the inconvenient fact that Abbas had no choice other than to take on the title of prime minister because Hamas forced him to fire Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Both the US and the EU view Fayyad as a moderate and the only way to avoid a backlash from firing him was for Abbas to replace Fayya
d with himself.
d with himself.
A THIRD argument that has received substantial attention is that the agreement is nothing more than a survival pact between two weakened leaders. Mashaal, it is argued, was weakened by his forced departure from Damascus. He made the deal to strengthen his position vis-à-vis Hamas’s leaders in Gaza.
While it may be true that Mashaal’s stature has taken a hit in comparison to Hamas terror master Ismail Haniyeh in Gaza, the shift in power between the two arch-terrorists is immaterial.
With their Muslim Brothers taking power in Egypt, both men are far more powerful today than they ever were before. Moreover, Mashaal’s transitional power-sharing agreement with Abbas is remarkably similar to the deal the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood wrought with Egypt’s military junta in the lead-up to the recent elections.
Unlike Hamas, Fatah has certainly been weakened by recent events in Egypt. As Mashaal’s Egyptian patrons take power, Abbas’s chief patron Hosni Mubarak is on trial and dying under house arrest.
What is notable about the claims that the agreement is nothing more than a deal between two weak leaders is that they presuppose that it is perfectly understandable that Abbas would turn to Hamas in his moment of weakness in the hopes of strengthening his position.
From Haaretz’s perspective, Abbas is outsmarting Hamas by signing an agreement with Mashaal. According to this line of thinking, Abbas is riding Hamas to increase his power. Since Haaretz is convinced that Abbas is interested in peace, the paper’s editorialists are certain that once he gains strength he will renege on his agreement with Hamas. That is, Haaretz thinks the deal is terrific because Abbas is a liar.
The problem is that it isn’t terrific that Abbas is a liar. Because what that means is that he can’t be trusted to keep his word. Just as Haaretz seems to think he won’t keep his word with Hamas, so, Israel has every reason to believe that he won’t keep its word with it. And indeed, he has a proven track record of lying to Israel. In 1996, he signed an informal “peace deal” with then-deputy foreign minister Yossi Beilin. The Beilin-Abu Mazen agreement was the basis of Ehud Barak’s peace offer to Yasser Arafat in 2000. When Arafat rejected Barak’s offer, Abbas denied he had ever signed the agreement with Beilin.
In 2008, Abbas negotiated with Ehud Olmert, giving the premier the impression that he was interested in peace. But after Olmert offered him unprecedented Israeli concessions, not only did Abbas reject the offer, he announced that he does not recognize Israel’s right to exist.
The most troubling aspect of Abbas’s decision to turn to Hamas in his moment of weakness is what it says about the relative balance of regional forces. Twenty years ago, when Arafat was weakened and isolated due to Israel’s defeat of the Palestinian uprising, and Arafat’s decision to support Saddam Hussein against the US in the Gulf War, the PLO chieftain decided that the only way to rebuild his strength was to gain recognition from the US. And 20 years ago, Arafat knew that the road to Washington went through Jerusalem. So he agreed to enter into peace talks with Israel.
It is a testament to the weakened state of the US in the region that in his hour of distress, Abbas opted to turn to Hamas. Not only does this signify that Washington is no longer considered a serious power broker. It indicates that for weakened leaders, peace with Israel is a far less attractive option than peace with jihadists.
Like Abbas, Arafat was a liar. The consequence of Arafat’s move towards Washington was a two-decade-long phony peace process that left Israel in a strategic position far weaker than that it enjoyed in 1992.
The consequences of Abbas’s move towards Hamas will in all likelihood be far worse.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.