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Complete unity between once warring but now less estranged Palestinian factions of Hamas and Fatah may not be an imminent reality, given the enormity of challenges they have to surmount for that to happen. But recent developments certainly give hope and if the current pace of bonhomie between the two sides is maintained or gathers momentum, the unity can be said to be closer than ever.
The biggest sign of both sides getting closer came yesterday when hundreds of thousands of people took out a rally in Gaza in support of President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction. Its importance comes from the fact that it’s the first such demonstration happening in the territory since Hamas took the reins in 2007, and follows the rallies which Hamas organised in the West Bank last month, where the Fatah is in charge.
The thaw in Fatah-Hamas relations is the result of recent events rather than a genuine desire of leaders of both sides to unite. Both are ideologically poles apart, with Hamas yet to officially recognise Israel and completely cut off from the West, while Abbas and his faction continue to be the favourites of the West. But despite his proximity, Abbas got nothing in turn, while Israel exploited the deep divisions in the Palestinian ranks to expand settlements and slaughter the peace process. Three factors have brought Fatah and Hamas closer: Israel’s assault on Gaza in November, in which Hamas, though battered, claimed victory, in the process denting the popularity of Fatah; secondly, the election of a Brotherhood government in Egypt, which gave Hamas a friend after a prolonged period of diplomatic isolation, and third, Abbas’s abject failure to get anything from Israel in return for eschewing violence. Also, the new government in Cairo has been persistently trying for unity between Palestinians, which has started producing results.
The permission for Fatah to take out the march in Gaza, which was held as part of the anniversary commemoration of Fatah’s 1959 founding, was an outcome of these developments. In a recorded speech, Abbas predicted the end of a five-year split between the two factions. “Soon we will regain our unity,” he said.
The divisions among Palestinians are as much responsible for the stalemate in the peace process as Israel’s tenacity and highhandedness. Israel doesn’t have to bother about peace talks if it can eat the cake and have it too, a scenario which Fatah and Hamas have made possible with their enmity towards each other.
It’s difficult to predict when the unity will become a reality, and even if it happens, it’s not going to be glitch-free. But Palestinians must realise that they have no moral authority to blame the international community for their slackness in responding to the crisis as long as they remain hobbled by internecine fighting.