If the Middle East peace process wasn’t dying before today, it’s definitely on life support now. Mahmoud Abbas and Ismail Haniyeh announced a reunion of Fatah and Hamas as partners in the Palestinian Authority earlier today, calling new national elections and a single government to control Gaza and the West Bank. The agreement will end seven years of mutual hostility … assuming it works at all:
The Gaza-based Islamist group Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) agreed on Wednesday to a unity pact, both sides announced in a joint news conference.
The move, coming after a long line of failed efforts to reconcile after seven years of internal bickering, envisions a unity government within five weeks and national elections six months later.
“This is the good news we tell our people: the era of division is over,” Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh said to loud applause at a Palestinian press conference also attended by representatives of the PLO.
Hamas is currently raining missiles down on Israel, which means that Abbas’ embrace means an end to negotiations. The Washington Post reported that Israel “criticized” the announcement. The Jerusalem Post reported that “criticism” turned into cancellation of talks (which the WaPo notes farther down in its article):
Israel cancelled a planned meeting Wednesday night with Palestinian officials over extending the negotiations in an apparent response to the earlier announcement of a Fatah-Hamas reconciliation. …
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett said that the Palestinian Authority had turned into a terrorist organization following the Fatah-Hamas agreement.
“We don’t talk to murderers,” Bennett stated. “The agreement between Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad brings the Middle East to a new diplomatic era. The Palestinian Authority turned into the largest terrorist organization in the world, 20 minutes from Tel Aviv.” According to Bennett, Israel shouldn’t negotiate with terrorists, just as the US does not talk to Hamas, Islamic Jihad or Al Qaeda.
One Israeli minister called it a slap in the face to John Kerry and the US:
“This is a slap in the US and its Secretary of State’s face,” Katz told Army Radio. “Abbas said no to peace and no to real negotiations.” Deputy Foreign Minister Ze’ev Elkin remarked that the agreement “once again shows the true united goal of Hamas terrorists and Fatah leaders: To destroy the Jewish State.[“]
Of course, this assumes that the deal will actually come to fruition. The Washington Post notes considerable reasons for skepticism:
Shimrit Meir, founding editor of Arabic media outlet “Al Masdar” (The Source), said that despite the announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas, the real test would be if Abbas would visit Gaza in the coming weeks.
“This is not the first ‘breakthrough’ between the two sides since 2007; we have been in this situation before,” she said, however, adding that there were some indications that this agreement could hold.
This time, she said, both sides are in difficult positions. Both have lost their popularity on the Palestinian street, Hamas has lost its support from Egypt and Iran, and Abbas is facing difficult challenges in reaching a peace agreement with the Israelis.
“Hamas wants to implement this agreement because they are very weak and need it now more than any time in the past,” said Meir. Abbas, she said, is indicating that he has made a choice to go with Hamas rather than trying to achieve a breakthrough in the peace process with Israel.
Jeff Dunetz predicts this will make life more difficult for Abbas internationally rather than better, unless Hamas renounces violence — and that’s not terribly likely:
While both Fatah and Hamas call for the destruction of Israel, Hamas is more overt in it’s threats making them in all languages and is considered a terrorist group even by the appeasement-prone European Union. Fatah, on the other hand is considered “moderate” because its call for the destruction of Israel are only made in Arabic.
Understandably, earlier this week Israeli PM Netanyahu said he would not negotiate with a government which includes Hamas unless it renounces violence and terrorism (which is as likely as Nancy Pelosi calling for the repeal of Obamacare).
This could allow for a sliver of opportunity to make progress. The problem with negotiating with Abbas is that he could wash his hands of Hamas. This brings all the issues into a single point of accountability on the Palestinian side. If Abbas can rope Hamas into a non-violence agreement and make it stick, then Israel could potentially resolve both the Gaza and West Bank issues comprehensively. However, the odds on that happening would be akin to winning the Powerball … three times … in a row.
Update: Don’t rush out and buy the Powerball tickets, Free Beacon warns:
A top Hamas official said that the newly announced Palestinian unity government “will not recognize ‘Israel’ and will not give up the resistance,” throwing into jeopardy the new ruling government’s access to U.S. assistance and other measures.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to dissolve the long ruling Palestinian Authority and form a government with the terror group Hamas, which rules over the Gaza Strip. …
Events took another surprising turn this afternoon when top Hamas official Hassan Yousef announced that the terror group would not renounce its commitment to violence and the destruction of Israel, according to Palestinian groups monitoring the situation.
Hamas will not recognize Israel—a chief sticking point in peace talks with Abbas—and “will not give up the resistance,” which is widely interpreted to refer to Hamas’s ongoing terror attacks against Israeli civilians and military personnel.
A “surprising turn”? Naaaah, not really.