By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Despite having the same proclaimed objective – the defense of the rights and interests of the Palestinian people and the establishment of an internationally recognized Palestinian State – the Palestinian Authority (PA, led by Mahmoud Abbas and born out Fatah during the 1993 Oslo Accords, theoretically charged with the administration of all the Palestinian territories, but effectively only in control of the West Bank) and the far more radical Islamic Hamas (now in control of the Gaza) have always been at opposing ends of an internal and longstanding political rift.
Hamas, which unlike Fatah (which was created out of the Palestinian Liberation Organization), did not participate in the Oslo Accords and was quick to reject its conditions.
Feeling it had been circumvented by the accords, Hamas refused to participated in the subsequent 1996 Palestinian elections on the grounds that is felt that doing so would lend legitimacy to the PA, which was created out of what it considered “unacceptable negotiations and compromises with Israel.”
(Abbas’s Fatah movement supports a Palestinian state alongside Israel, while Hamas, which has been deemed a terrorist organization by both the United States and European Union, steadfastly rejects Israel’s right to exist.)
Consequently, he then-leader of Fatah, Yasser Arafat, won by a comfortable lead (88.2 percent) in an essentially unopposed election (his only contender was Samiha Khalil, a female politician who was largely seen as a prop to justify the democratic process).
Hamas (under the political name of Change and Reform) did participate in the second Palestinian Legislative Council elections in January of 2016, winning 74 out of 132 seats, compared to Fatah’s 45 seats.
But that only served to stir the flames of hostilities against the rival Palestinian movements, leading to an all-out (albeit short-lived) war between the two sides in February 2007, with Hamas overrunning compounds used by Abbas’s security forces in Gaza.
The two sides finally agreed to form a new Palestinian unity government which took office one month later, but despite Abbas’ pleas, Hamas refused to stop launching rocket assaults into Israeli territory and tensions in that region escalated.
By June 2007, the Battle for Gaza was in full swing, and Hamas grabbed full control over the Gaza strip, leaving Abbas no choice but to dissolve the feeble Palestinian government and declare a state of emergency.
That, essentially, left the Palestinian territories divided into two separate pseudo-states, the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and the Hamas government in Gaza.
A shaky unity pact between Fatah and Hamas was signed in attempt to end the feud between the two groups in 2011, and with the help of Cairo, a tepid reconciliation agreement was later ironed out.
Numerous attempts since that time to form a power-sharing unity government have failed, and neither side trusts the other.
But, finally, in September, Hamas agreed to shut down its shadow government in Gaza and enter talks with Fatah to hold new elections.
To a certain extent, Abbas had twisted Fatah’s hands by threatening to cut off payment to Israel for electricity in Gaza, as well as government employee salaries in the strip.
Faced with growing anger from the people of Gaza and a blatantly ineffective governance of the region, Hamas had little choice but to reach a compromise.
Hamas’ vow to work with Abbas and the PA is promising, but there are no assurances that the group will keep its word and not resort again to violence.
Hamas has repeatedly shown itself to be deceitful and untrustworthy, and the seething hatred and mistrust between Hamas and Fatah will not soon be extinguished.
That is unfortunate, because unless the two sides can reach a real and lasting conciliation and unity government, there can be little hope of any permanent resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor the establishment of an authentic Palestinian state.
Thérèse Margolis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.