Why the Hamas-Fatah Deal Is Bad for the Palestinians
12:54 PM, May 10, 2011 • By JONATHAN SCHANZER
Abbas likely feels that he has little to lose. For all of Obama’s talk of settlement cessation, he has not been able to deliver any of the disputed lands that Palestinians claim for their own. Meanwhile, Obama has not been able to bring about his stated desired outcome in a host of neighboring countries: Libya, Iraq, and Egypt are obvious examples. Hamas appears to be on the ropes, with its sponsor Syria in crisis. In addition, Hamas doesn’t want Fatah to declare a state without its inclusion. This was at least part of the calculus behind Abbas’s decision to reconcile with Hamas.
Abbas, however, appears to have made three critical miscalculations:
First, Fatah’s partnership with Hamas simply cannot last. Apart from their enmity toward Israel, the two factions agree on almost nothing. Even at the heralded unity conference, Abbas and the Syria-based Hamas leader, Khaled Meshal, refused to sign their names to the deal; proxies signed for them. The two factions also continue to arrest and obstruct loyalists from opposing parties.
This brings us to the second point. Israel has been defending the West Bank from Hamas advances since the civil war in 2007. With Hamas now a political partner to Fatah, Israel’s leadership could refuse to come to Fatah’s defense. Thus, Israel’s military, intelligence, financial, and civic support to the West Bank may soon dry up. At the very least, the Palestinians should brace for a significant drop in support.
Finally, even if the U.N. recognizes a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, a lack of U.S. support will create political and financial challenges that may smother the state in its cradle. Already, 29 senators have asked Obama to turn off the spigot of aid to the Palestinians. And even in the Obama era, with the United States showing less assertiveness on the world stage, the Palestinians need America and its robust foreign policy assistance.
Though Fatah and Hamas may have temporarily reconciled themselves to one another, the Palestinians will eventually need to reconcile themselves to Washington. As long as Hamas is in the picture, it won’t be easy.
Jonathan Schanzer, a former intelligence analyst at the U.S. Treasury, is vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and author of Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine (Palgrave Macmillan 2008).