.
H

amas and Fatah’s September 24 agreement to hold elections reflects recent geopolitical shifts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and can contribute to lasting Palestinian unity. The announcement by the two Palestinian factions is a moment of potential reconciliation for Palestinians, which could be the critical juncture necessary for peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. However, with Hamas’s resiliency in Gaza, the international community must recognize this as a moment of opportunity to build peace through negotiation with the Palestinian groups in order to mitigate violent tendencies and support democratic principles.

The decision to hold elections for the first time since 2006 comes on the heels of the Abraham Accords, which ushered in unprecedented normalization agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain. The Palestinian political rivals announced the agreement after meetings in Turkey not long ago, with another meeting planned to establish a reconciliation process and election details between Fatah and Hamas.

This decision follows a series of moves by Fatah, the ruling Palestinian party of the West Bank, to remove itself from relations with some of its former Arab allies, including its decision to quit its chairmanship role within the Arab League and recall its diplomats from the UAE and Bahrain for their decision to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel.

The normalization agreements, alongside recent Palestinian decisions for elections, are conjuring memories of the last elections between Hamas and Fatah in 2006 that resulted in political violence.

This moment hardened the split between the former in Gaza and the latter in the West Bank and has harmed Palestinian coordination on major issues for over a decade. Subsequent attempts at reconciliation in 2014 again led to conflict just months after the Gaza and Cairo Agreements were signed, which would have set the ground for elections.

It is not difficult to view the current scenario as a case of déjà vu with an obvious and potentially bloody outcome. While it is easy to disregard Hamas-Fatah cooperation as nothing more than an alliance of convenience with little chance of survival, to do so takes a fatalist and flawed assessment of the unique regional situation today.

COVID-19 has created an environment in the Middle East that is not comparable to any other moment in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The pandemic is ravaging weak public health systems in Gaza and the West Bank. At the same time, intra-regional rivalries have increased, as reflected by numerous multi-year conflicts. Most importantly, the UAE and Bahrain have normalized relations with Israel, all while headlines are discussing the once-unimaginable possibility of Saudi-Israeli normalization on the horizon.

Therefore, the time is ripe for the two Palestinian factions to join forces. For Hamas, political legitimacy rests on aid that bolsters their ability to provide even basic services to one of the poorest parts of the world during a pandemic while other radical groups like Islamic Jihad gain influence. For Fatah, literal walls are closing in the West Bank as their soft power capabilities diminish due to Arab diplomatic normalization with Israel. Both groups rightfully feel cornered.

Given Hamas’s current destitute position, the group can be presented with a deal that ensures its existence in Gaza in exchange for political moderation, alongside a reduced devotion to military resistance against Israel. This will require significant levels of aid, which becomes complicated due to its terrorist designation and long history of violence.

While legitimate concerns about Hamas’s violence and blatant disregard for humanity remain, it is important to capitalize on the opportunity presented. Hamas’s hostilities can be tempered and an end to its use of violence can come via aid. Hamas has signaled its interest in such a concept recently, as it quietly moderated its position with Israel on territory in its 2017 charter due to prolonged and destitute conditions in Gaza.

In order for this moderation to be recognized, a shift in approach from major international actors will be necessary. The United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia, known as the “Quartet,” rightfully expect Hamas to renounce violence, recognize Israel, and accept prior international agreements as pre-conditions to any tempering of pressure. However, these stances fail to understand that negotiations focused on ending violence in support of Palestinian democracy, which should be a priority, may come at the high cost of Hamas not recognizing Israel. In order to address the issue of violence and support democratic ideals, some flexibility and diplomatic prowess will be necessary on the part of the Quartet.

At the regional level, the recent ceasefire negotiations mediated by Qatar offers a glimpse into such a possibility. While tensions last month were high between Hamas and Israel, the ability of Qatar to mediate a ceasefire in exchange for aid to address the issue of public health during the pandemic, amongst other needs like fuel, reflects an opening and point of focus for future mediation efforts. Further, this exchange shows Hamas’s desire to continue providing basic services to sustain its legitimacy in Gaza and indicates the need for Qatar to continue to operate in an intermediary capacity.

Recognizing these priorities will be critical to negotiations aimed at supporting unification through the reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah. The Quartet should adopt a diplomacy-focused strategy in support of the regional approach of Qatar and assist its efforts to mediate between the Palestinian factions and specifically Hamas. By constructively working with Qatar, and hopefully other Arab states, genuine progress can be made to bring the two factions together, moderate Hamas’s use of violence, and foster democracy for Palestinians.

Such an approach is likely to be highly contentious, as Hamas is famously unpopular in the international community for good reason. At the same time, it is clear that Hamas is here to stay unless it is removed by Palestinians in Gaza. With this in mind, unity among Fatah and Hamas can curtail long term violence and poverty-induced radicalization. The international community cannot afford to continue to sit on the sidelines as radicalized violence hardens over time and must support the Palestinian people achieve an improved and self-determined political outcome.

About
Alexander J. Langlois
:
Alexander Langlois has years of experience working for NGOs on policy analysis, research, and program management related to governance, conflict, and stabilization. Today, he works as a researcher in the U.S.-Sudan Initiative to promote peace in Sudan.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.

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Avoiding an Unmitigated Palestinian Disaster

November 7, 2020

H

amas and Fatah’s September 24 agreement to hold elections reflects recent geopolitical shifts in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and can contribute to lasting Palestinian unity. The announcement by the two Palestinian factions is a moment of potential reconciliation for Palestinians, which could be the critical juncture necessary for peace between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. However, with Hamas’s resiliency in Gaza, the international community must recognize this as a moment of opportunity to build peace through negotiation with the Palestinian groups in order to mitigate violent tendencies and support democratic principles.

The decision to hold elections for the first time since 2006 comes on the heels of the Abraham Accords, which ushered in unprecedented normalization agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Bahrain. The Palestinian political rivals announced the agreement after meetings in Turkey not long ago, with another meeting planned to establish a reconciliation process and election details between Fatah and Hamas.

This decision follows a series of moves by Fatah, the ruling Palestinian party of the West Bank, to remove itself from relations with some of its former Arab allies, including its decision to quit its chairmanship role within the Arab League and recall its diplomats from the UAE and Bahrain for their decision to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel.

The normalization agreements, alongside recent Palestinian decisions for elections, are conjuring memories of the last elections between Hamas and Fatah in 2006 that resulted in political violence.

This moment hardened the split between the former in Gaza and the latter in the West Bank and has harmed Palestinian coordination on major issues for over a decade. Subsequent attempts at reconciliation in 2014 again led to conflict just months after the Gaza and Cairo Agreements were signed, which would have set the ground for elections.

It is not difficult to view the current scenario as a case of déjà vu with an obvious and potentially bloody outcome. While it is easy to disregard Hamas-Fatah cooperation as nothing more than an alliance of convenience with little chance of survival, to do so takes a fatalist and flawed assessment of the unique regional situation today.

COVID-19 has created an environment in the Middle East that is not comparable to any other moment in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The pandemic is ravaging weak public health systems in Gaza and the West Bank. At the same time, intra-regional rivalries have increased, as reflected by numerous multi-year conflicts. Most importantly, the UAE and Bahrain have normalized relations with Israel, all while headlines are discussing the once-unimaginable possibility of Saudi-Israeli normalization on the horizon.

Therefore, the time is ripe for the two Palestinian factions to join forces. For Hamas, political legitimacy rests on aid that bolsters their ability to provide even basic services to one of the poorest parts of the world during a pandemic while other radical groups like Islamic Jihad gain influence. For Fatah, literal walls are closing in the West Bank as their soft power capabilities diminish due to Arab diplomatic normalization with Israel. Both groups rightfully feel cornered.

Given Hamas’s current destitute position, the group can be presented with a deal that ensures its existence in Gaza in exchange for political moderation, alongside a reduced devotion to military resistance against Israel. This will require significant levels of aid, which becomes complicated due to its terrorist designation and long history of violence.

While legitimate concerns about Hamas’s violence and blatant disregard for humanity remain, it is important to capitalize on the opportunity presented. Hamas’s hostilities can be tempered and an end to its use of violence can come via aid. Hamas has signaled its interest in such a concept recently, as it quietly moderated its position with Israel on territory in its 2017 charter due to prolonged and destitute conditions in Gaza.

In order for this moderation to be recognized, a shift in approach from major international actors will be necessary. The United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia, known as the “Quartet,” rightfully expect Hamas to renounce violence, recognize Israel, and accept prior international agreements as pre-conditions to any tempering of pressure. However, these stances fail to understand that negotiations focused on ending violence in support of Palestinian democracy, which should be a priority, may come at the high cost of Hamas not recognizing Israel. In order to address the issue of violence and support democratic ideals, some flexibility and diplomatic prowess will be necessary on the part of the Quartet.

At the regional level, the recent ceasefire negotiations mediated by Qatar offers a glimpse into such a possibility. While tensions last month were high between Hamas and Israel, the ability of Qatar to mediate a ceasefire in exchange for aid to address the issue of public health during the pandemic, amongst other needs like fuel, reflects an opening and point of focus for future mediation efforts. Further, this exchange shows Hamas’s desire to continue providing basic services to sustain its legitimacy in Gaza and indicates the need for Qatar to continue to operate in an intermediary capacity.

Recognizing these priorities will be critical to negotiations aimed at supporting unification through the reconciliation of Hamas and Fatah. The Quartet should adopt a diplomacy-focused strategy in support of the regional approach of Qatar and assist its efforts to mediate between the Palestinian factions and specifically Hamas. By constructively working with Qatar, and hopefully other Arab states, genuine progress can be made to bring the two factions together, moderate Hamas’s use of violence, and foster democracy for Palestinians.

Such an approach is likely to be highly contentious, as Hamas is famously unpopular in the international community for good reason. At the same time, it is clear that Hamas is here to stay unless it is removed by Palestinians in Gaza. With this in mind, unity among Fatah and Hamas can curtail long term violence and poverty-induced radicalization. The international community cannot afford to continue to sit on the sidelines as radicalized violence hardens over time and must support the Palestinian people achieve an improved and self-determined political outcome.

About
Alexander J. Langlois
:
Alexander Langlois has years of experience working for NGOs on policy analysis, research, and program management related to governance, conflict, and stabilization. Today, he works as a researcher in the U.S.-Sudan Initiative to promote peace in Sudan.
The views presented in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the views of any other organization.