Editorial: Hamas-Fatah Talks

Editorial: Hamas-Fatah Talks
10 June 2008

IT is still too early to believe with great confidence that reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is about to happen. But there is definitely something of a momentum building up. Last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for fresh dialogue with Hamas and promised new elections if talks succeeded; previously he had refused to talk unless Hamas surrendered Gaza which it took over exactly a year ago. Then, on Saturday and Sunday, there were confidence-buildings talks between the two in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, mediated by the current chairman of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade. On Sunday too, talks in Riyadh between President Abbas and Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah resulted in a reported agreement that truce talks between the two Palestinian factions would be overseen by the Arab League. And yesterday the Palestinian president was in Cairo for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the issue as well as on Israeli obstacles to peace.

There clearly is movement and if it seems there are different strands being woven, they are all part of the same thread. This is welcome — because there is no chance of a durable peace in the Middle East if half the Palestinians are at daggers drawn with the other half. Indeed, there is not going to be a deal in the first place if Gaza is left out of it. The concept of an independent Palestine without Gaza is as meaningless as an independent Palestine without Jerusalem; there will not be a peace deal if any one of the three is excluded. Whatever Palestinians in the West Bank think of Hamas (and their views are mixed), they certainly will not tolerate their compatriots in Gaza being left to Israel’s mercy nor will they forgive any leader who signs a deal without the Strip.

Nonetheless, despite the evident momentum, it is only wise to be cautious. The will for peace has to be there; the Arab League succeeded with Lebanon because the Lebanese rivals wanted a deal, not because it could force them into accepting one. Is the will to succeed equally as strong in Fatah and Hamas? We must hope so, despite the failure of previous attempts to mediate a deal between the two — Yemeni, Egyptian and not least the Saudi attempt in early 2007; it resulted briefly in a Palestinian unity government but the unbridled hostility between the two sides destroyed it. Hamas’ takeover of Gaza occurred shortly afterward.

Bridging the deep gulf between the two will be made all the more difficult by the private agendas of party loyalists on both sides. It is not just political rivalries; there are countless blood feuds biding their time, particularly as a result of the violence before and during the Gaza takeover; they could so easily blow apart any agreement. If a deal is to work, both Hamas and Fatah are going to have to make sure their supporters toe the line. Meanwhile, no one should forget that there will be others who will do their utmost to ensure that the two remain poles apart. But, despite all this, we hope that a deal will be found.

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