Hamas-Fatah reconciliation: What it means for peace in region

A seven-year rift has come to an end with the signing of the Hamas-Fatah agreement. The reconciliation between the two sides went through a process that travelled through Cairo and Doha, but ultimately culminated on the soil of Gaza, governed by Hamas. The idea is to form a national unity government within a period of five weeks and then prepare for the Palestinian elections — legislative, presidential and National Council elections will be held all at once six months after the formation of the government.

This reconciliation will actually be good for the almost defunct Israel-Palestinian peace process. This is based on the Oslo Accords, which had envisaged a ‘land for peace’ deal. Israel would (incrementally) hand over territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to the Palestinians, who would in return eschew all violence against Israel and pursue peace instead. Hamas, however, saw the deal as a sell-out by the PLO, for its own self-serving agenda and survival. To drive home its disillusion with the deal, Hamas unleashed a wave of violent attacks against Israel almost as soon as the Oslo process began. Israel responded to each such attack with disproportionate force against the Palestinians. On the other hand, Israel, too, violated the process by commencing settlement building on lands it had to relinquish. The accords were, thus, violated by both sides almost as soon as signed.

Very recently tensions have again escalated. While Israel announced the resumption of settlement building in the West Bank, missiles rained from Gaza on Israeli towns. Nevertheless, the accords, in fits and starts, have ushered in perceptible changes, which includes the return of the PLO to the territories, the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, and the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.

hamasThe current reconciliation between the two Palestinian factions, therefore, may open up a window of opportunity to deliver the Oslo deal. There is a takeaway from our own region. Any deal India strikes with Pakistan when the military is in governance there tends to hold because the army is the key player that sets the agenda for relations with India.

Any deal that the Palestinians conclude with Israel with the endorsement of Hamas is also expected to hold. And earlier ceasefires that Hamas had entered into with Israel prove this.

So while the importance of this reconciliation – and it is important that it is implemented and holds – cannot be overstressed for Palestinians, it is equally significant for Israeli-Palestinian relations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, instead of calling off negotiations, should seize the moment and make history. Time is ticking away for the two-state solution and the one-state solution which many Palestinians now espouse, heralds the end of Israel’s character as a Jewish state. For the Palestinians sovereignty over the West Bank is long overdue. Surrounded as Israel currently is with failed states, peace with the Palestinians can only bode well for it.

(The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author)