Lack of Palestinian unity has been one of the biggest obstacles on the road to Palestinian freedom. With Hamas and Fatah behaving like enemies and ruling their respective territories of Gaza and West bank, the impression created was that of two states rather than one. It was Israel which benefited most from their estrangement and division, and tried vigorously to keep both sides apart. But if the accord signed by Hamas and Fatah yesterday proves as the key to closer cooperation, the Palestinian struggle for independence is likely to see better days. Addressing a packed news conference in Gaza Hamas leader Ismail Haniyah said: “This is the good news we have to tell the people: the era of discord is ended.”
The timing of the pact is significant. It comes less than a week before the expiry of the deadline for US-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on 29 April. Reports say the new deal is likely to complicate US efforts to seek another nine-month extension to those talks. Hamas wasn’t in the talks anyway, and if President Mahmoud Abbas chose to sign this deal at this juncture, it could be due to a realisation that his side doesn’t stand to benefit from the John Kerry-brokered negotiations which are collapsing due to the Israeli refusal to honour its commitments.
Past attempts to bring the Palestinian factions closer had failed due to deep differences between the two sides, and if both have decided to seal a deal now, it’s a result of the internal problems they are facing. Hamas has become more isolated internationally, and the limited boost it received from the rise of Brotherhood in Egypt too evaporated after Mohammed Mursi was ousted by the military. The new military-led government in Cairo follows a hostile policy towards Hamas. And Abbas finds his reputation and credibility seriously damaged due to the failure of peace negotiations with Israel. As expected, Israel has been angry at the deal. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Abbas has to choose whether he wants peace with Israel or Hamas. In a first step of retaliation, Tel Aviv cancelled a planned session of peace talks with the Palestinians and also launched an air strike on a site in the north of the Gaza Strip, wounding 12 people including children. The Obama administration too has been upset. In Washington, state department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the US was troubled by the announcement, saying it ‘could seriously complicate negotiations to extend peace negotiations’.
Fatah and Hamas have only started the journey towards reconciliation. It’s a long and pot-holed road ahead. The outcome will depend on their commitment and willingness to make sacrifices for a common cause.