A reconciliation process Palestinian style, could take an interesting turn of events.
Reports from Israeli media indicate that security forces of the primary Palestinian Authority (PA) party Fatah, have been on an arrest spree of Hamas members. During the month of October, the Palestinian Authority's General Intelligence and Preventive Security agency arrested more than 50 Hamas operatives in the West Bank. This was in addition to the 130 operatives arrested belonging to other militant groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
These operations have been ongoing despite the signing of a reconciliation agreement between the two factions on October 12th in Cairo. The agreement brought Hamas, an internationally recognized terror group, into the fold of the Palestinian ruling bodies, and made it a legitimate player within the Palestinian government. This new unified government now technically rules both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The continued operations by Fatah against its new political ally speak to the multifaceted nature of the recent reconciliation and the tricky relationship it produced.
On the one hand, reconciliation can be flaunted in front of Washington and other important international players as a great diplomatic achievement and a sign that the Palestinian people are getting their act together politically. Convincing Hamas to sit at the same table with more moderate Palestinian groups also sends a signal that the group is willing to take a step away from violent tactics. This is certainly how the deal has been portrayed by its Egyptian mediators.
Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, Fatah wants to make amends with Hamas - at least on the official level - for the sake of its people. As one Palestinian public pollster reported: “People are fed up with the political bickering between the two movements on account of the interest of the Palestinian people. Although there is not much love lost between the supporters of the movements, or even between West Bankers and Gazans, most of the public believes that greater unity is in their interest.”
With all that said, Fatah has to deal with facts on the ground.
Fatah understands that Hamas is at its core a hardline militant group that may be able to walk the political walk, but that is far from a moderate oriented organization. It will not easily fall into line with Fatah’s agenda of peace with Israel. Indeed, before the ink on the reconciliation documents had dried, Hamas’ leaders, including deputy chairman of Hamas’ Political Bureau Saleh Arouri and leader of Hamas in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, made explicit statements that the group will continue striving for the “destruction of the Zionist entity.”
Additionally, Hamas operatives continue to plot against Israeli targets at every level despite having pledged to halt these efforts as part of the unity deal. Militants are still participating in actual attacks as well as promoting violence through media. And lest one think that these reports are only instances of baseless Israeli propaganda, the Fatah participation in the arrests indicates otherwise.
It should come as no surprise, therefore, that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is steadfast in his insistence to not allow Hamas to gain a foothold - even the smallest civilian one - in the West Bank. The Fatah leadership is so concerned about this prospect that it is even willing to collaborate with Israeli security forces to order prevent it. Many of the raid operations that resulted in the recent string of arrests were conducted in tandem with IDF units stationed in the West Bank.
These incidents, coupled with the declarations of Hamas leadership only bolster the claim of voices critical of the whole reconciliation project from the start. According to this camp’s narrative, Hamas sees reconciliation as just another step in their relentless war against Israel, in that the deal gives the group a certain measure of international legitimacy and in turn, breathing room to ramp up their militant operations unabated.
Keeping this in mind gives some perspective as to how Fatah is relating to their brand new political partner.
It is yet to be seen how this trend of Hamas targeting operations will affect the new political arrangement. For the time being, Fatah will continue playing both the roles of reconciler and enforcer in the West Bank.