Wednesday’s Hamas-Fatah reconciliation agreement, the result of secret negotiations in Cairo over a period of weeks, is yet another complication for an Obama administration facing a tidal wave of political change in the Middle East and new international pressure to resume active Israeli-Palestinian mediation.
According to press reports, the deal includes the creation of an interim government and elections to be called within a year.
Details reportedly will be made public next week.
In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu repeated longstanding Israeli policy barring negotiations with any Palestinian entity that includes Hamas. “You can’t have peace with both Israel and Hamas; choose peace with Israel,” he reportedly said.
To assess early reports about the Fatah-Hamas deal, The Jewish Week talked to Martin Raffel, assistant executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs and head of an interagency task force combating efforts to delegitimize Israel in the international community.
JW: What are the implications of this tentative agreement for U.S. policy?
Raffel: It’s too early for a complete assessment. We don’t know if it’s actually going to happen, and what the terms of the deal might be.
But it obviously has major implications, not just for U.S. policy but for policy of the [Middle East] Quartet, which laid down three criteria for Hamas to be considered a legitimate interlocutor.
Based on early reports, I see no evidence Hamas is accepting those terms, which makes this deal very problematic.
If one party in the Palestinian government recognizes Israel, respects past agreements and renounces violence and the other party does not, the side of the PLO that accepts the Quartet’s terms doesn’t make the other side kosher.
So the fact the PA has accepted the three conditions will not carry over to Hamas unless Hamas publicly agrees.
How do you assess the relative power of the two parties in this new unity structure? Isn’t Fatah the weak party?
In some respects, yes. But that has been changing. The economic and security progress in the West Bank in the last few years, under Fayyad’s leadership, has really strengthened the hand of Fatah.
You see life improving for residents in the West Bank and not improving in Gaza, and that has an impact on the Palestinian street.
So Fatah may not be as weak as it was.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has said Israel will never talk to a unity government that includes Hamas. Do you see this as a bargaining position, a hard-and-fast Israeli policy or an excuse for not working harder to get back to the negotiating table?
It’s simply consistent with past Israeli policy, and I have no reason to believe it has changed. They’re simply not going to talk to a terrorist organization that remains committed to Israel’s destruction.
What does this unity agreement do to the Palestinian effort to win UN support for a statehood declaration in September?
Remember, we still do not know all the details. But I would imagine it complicates that effort — which we oppose. If a terrorist organization is part of the Palestinian governance structure, recognition will be harder for many nations, particularly the EU countries.
How does this agreement figure into the waves of change sweeping across the Arab world?
It seems tied to the changes in Egypt, in particular. [Former Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak had a very clear policy to isolate Hamas internationally. But the political winds in Egypt have changed; the Muslim Brotherhood is clearly gaining added authority, and Hamas is basically the Palestinian arm of the Brotherhood.
All of these changes have put additional pressure on the Fatah leadership to find a way to bring Hamas into the government.