by JONATHAN SCHANZER, NY TIMES—
The Palestinians have been a house divided since 2007, when Hamas, a violent Islamist organization, overran the Palestinian Authority. The violence erupted after a political standoff following their stunning electoral victory the previous year. To this day, Hamas still controls Gaza, while the rival Fatah faction (which controls the Palestinian Liberation Organization) clings to power in the West Bank.
This bloody conflict was not only a black eye for Palestinian nationalism; it has had a profound and deleterious impact on prospects for a two-state solution. Indeed, how can a solution be reached when these two Palestinian mini-states are in a state of hostility?
The Palestinians may be on the path to reunification, if they can overcome the false starts that have plagued such efforts before. But if unity is achieved, it will almost certainly come at the expense of regional peace.
The differences between Hamas and Fatah are actually not as stark as some might think. Both were founded on violent strains of Palestinian nationalism. Perhaps their biggest area of disagreement is the role of religion in the Palestinian struggle. But even then, during the second intifada (2000 to 2005), the Fatah faction invoked Islamist language and symbols. It even spawned its own Islamist terrorist faction, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade.
After the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004, the new Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, brought an end to the intifada. Since then, to Abbas’ full credit, Fatah has maintained a course of nonviolence, and security cooperation with Israel has reached at an all-time high. To his discredit, however, incitement has continued, including the glorification of terrorists in the media. Fatah, in other words, has been wrestling with its demons. In fact, a controversy erupted recently when the Palestinian Minister of Religious Affairs, Mahmoud al-Habbash, came under fire by Fatah activists for condemning a terrorist attack against Israelis.
Yesterday’s reconciliation deal appears to have interrupted, or even ended, this important tug-of-war. Hamas’ embrace of terrorism is full-throated, and so is its rejection of Israel. So, while Fatah’s embrace of Hamas may lead to national unity, it bodes poorly for peace. It also portends poorly for the Palestinian nationalist movement as it takes its first steps into what appears to be a post-Oslo world.
Jonathan Schanzer is the vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. A former terrorism finance analyst at the Treasury Department, he is the author of “Hamas vs Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine” and “State of Failure: Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas and the Unmaking of the Palestinian State.”