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Editorial: The Hamas-Palestinian Authority unity agreement and history

People release pigeons in Gaza to show support for a unity deal between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah, October 13, 2017. / Credit: MOHAMMED SALEM

OCTOBER 19, 2017 – For some, last week’s reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) represented a new hope that the pact could eventually lead to some form of lasting peace with Israel. But to grasp just how big the divide is between the two governing Palestinian factions, one needs to look at the history of their previous failed agreements. This is the seventh national unity agreement between Hamas and the PA since 2007, when Hamas wrested control over the Gaza Strip in a bloody civil war, which claimed almost 1,000 lives. Previous agreements were signed in Mecca in 2007, Sana’a in 2008, Cairo in 2011, Doha in 2012, Cairo (again) in 2012, Shati in 2014, and Cairo (yet again) this month.

There are numerous reasons why all of the previous agreements failed – and perhaps the main reason is distrust. Over the last decade, Hamas and PA leaders have rounded up rival factions; Gaza jails are filled with former PA foot soldiers, and in the West Bank, Hamas strongmen have been arrested and largely silenced. In 2014, Amnesty International accused Hamas of torturing residents loyal to the PA in Gaza. Hamas has also accused the PA of torturing its members.

This latest agreement appears to be a pact of convenience for the two struggling political parties. It is also about money. Last March, Hamas moved to further strengthen its control over Gaza by creating an administrative committee that assumed more state functions. This irritated PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who responded by cutting electricity in Gaza. Abbas also cut payments to families of Hamas prisoners now in Israeli jails (the PA has long subsidized families of prisoners), slowed medical supplies to Gaza, and forced over 6,000 government workers into early retirement.

The deal calls for Hamas to relinquish control of Gaza’s borders, and allows the PA to run Gaza. The agreement reportedly also would include the creation of a joint police force comprised of PA and Hamas members, and ending the electrical sanctions against Hamas and Gaza’s residents.

All of this is a non-starter with Israel – which has fought three wars in the last 10 years against Hamas in Gaza. The US is also not optimistic. In 1997, the US designated Hamas as a terrorist organization, and Israel also considers Hamas a terrorist entity. While the formal agreement has not been publically released, there has been no mention of disarming the Hamas army, its militias, its weapons smuggling, or the elimination of tunnels that have been used to attack and kidnap Israelis.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes no peace can be achieved until Hamas disarms and recognizes Israel. In a Tweet on social media earlier this week, he wrote, “Israel opposes any reconciliation in which the terrorist organization Hamas does not disarm and end its war to destroy Israel.”

Earlier this week, Israel’s Security Cabinet also essentially rejected the agreement and ruled out any negotiations with a Palestinian government until Hamas recognizes Israel, disarms, and desists from terrorism. The Cabinet also called for Hamas to sever its ties with Iran; return fallen IDF soldiers and Israeli civilians; and for the PA to exercise full security control in Gaza, including at the crossings, and prevent smuggling.
Israel’s words mean nothing to Hamas, a patron of Iran and Hezbollah. Given its history of quickly abrogating its agreements with the PA, all of this talk of reconciliation can’t be taken seriously unless this pact is implemented. And while it’s slated to begin on December 1, history reminds us that there’s nothing to suggest it will actually happen.

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