RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian Authority announced Nov. 17 that coordination with Israel has been restored after a six-month hiatus. On May 19, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had cut ties with Israel in protest of the US Mideast plan and the Israeli West Bank annexation plan.
The PA’s decision to resume coordination, however, has damaged efforts to achieve reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. The latter is now threatening to undermine the agreements reached between the two sides, namely in Tukey on Sept. 24, when they announced agreement to hold legislative and presidential elections, as well as elections for the Palestinian National Council of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, within six months.
Even before the PA announcement, however, it appeared that little progress was being made between Fatah and Hamas. Following the agreement on elections, a meeting of the secretaries-general of the different Palestinian factions was supposed to be held by early October at the request of Abbas to announce a presidential decree for the election date. But this has yet to happen.
There have been several stumbling blocks to the reconciliation, namely the unspoken Egyptian anger at both Fatah and Hamas for meeting in Istanbul. Cairo considered this to be a threat to its sponsorship of the Palestinian issue, which prompted Abbas to postpone the meeting of the secretaries-general and the issuance of a presidential decree on the election date.
Another reason for the stalled reconciliation efforts was the US presidential vote. The PA had postponed contacts with Hamas until after the election results, and it was hoping for a Joe Biden victory. According to the PA, a Biden administration would pave the way for the return of political and security relations with Washington, the resumption of US financial aid that had been put on hold under President Donald Trump and the relaunching of the peace process.
Fatah and Hamas met again Nov. 15 as part of a series of meetings held in Cairo. The delegations were headed by Saleh al-Arouri, deputy head of Hamas politburo, and Jibril Rajoub, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee. The round of talks ended Nov. 17 when the PA announced the restoration of ties with Israel, including security coordination.
In a joint statement Nov. 17, the delegations of both movements said, “Meetings have been held between the Hamas and Fatah delegations in Cairo to discuss the reconciliation issues. An understanding was reached on several points, and it was agreed to hold further meetings between both sides in the coming period to discuss all outstanding issues.” The statement did not elaborate on any details and gave the impression that the talks have failed.
Well-informed sources in Fatah who spoke on condition of anonymity told Al-Monitor there had been a setback in the talks between the two sides, particularly when the PA announced the return of coordination with Israel. The sources did not further elaborate.
Al-Monitor tried to contact leaders from Fatah’s Central Committee and Revolutionary Council for further comment, but they declined to give any statement.
In a scathing statement Nov. 17, Hamas attacked the PA for its decision to restore ties with Israel, saying, “The PA brushed away all national principles and the outcome of the historical meeting of the Palestinian factions’ secretaries-general,” in reference to a meeting held in September in both Ramallah and Beirut.
“This decision is a blow to national efforts to build a national partnership, and a strategic struggle to confront the occupation, annexation, normalization and the 'deal of the century' [Mideast peace plan]. This decision comes amid the announcement of thousands of settlement housing units in occupied [East] Jerusalem,” the statement read.
Mahmoud al-Zahar, a member of Hamas’ politburo, said in a press statement Nov. 18, “The PA turned its back on reconciliation the moment the occupation wagged its tail.”
Wasfi Qabha, a leader in the Hamas movement in the West Bank, told Al-Monitor, “The PA’s resumption of relations with Israel is a dagger to the reconciliation efforts.”
“Hamas ought to continue pushing the reconciliation efforts forward, and not allow the influential segment of Fatah, which draws up the PA’s politics, to evade the obligations of reconciliation. Hamas ought to pull the rug of excuses from under their feet so that the movement is [not seen] as the reason for the failed reconciliation,” he added.
Qabha said the recent Cairo meetings did not yield any positive outcome, which suggests the talks are stumbling. He said the Cairo meetings took place for several reasons, but namely because Egypt was angry with both movements for meeting in Turkey. “Holding meetings in Cairo was merely a gesture of goodwill for Egypt and to assure it that it is still the sponsor of the Palestinian issue,” he said.
Qabha added that the meetings were also held to figure out the reasons behind Abbas’ reluctance to issue a presidential decree to set a date for the elections. “The reconciliation still has a long way to go. Hamas ought not to give any reason for the PA to blame the seemingly failed reconciliation efforts on it,” he said.
Khalil Shaheen, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies (Masarat), told Al-Monitor, “The fate of reconciliation will be determined by the position that Hamas and the rest of the Palestinian factions take, in light of the PA’s return to coordination with Israel. Resuming relations with Israel is in direct conflict with what had been agreed with the factions who condemned this decision.”
“Reconciliation is not necessary for Fatah only, but for Hamas as well. But the restoration of ties between Israel and the PA would impede the progress of reconciliation in the way the Palestinians were hoping, in terms of the return of national unity at the level of the PLO and the completion of an agreed national program,” he added.
Shaheen said the PA proposed to Israel one of the following three conditions as a prerequisite for the resumption of relations between the two, including the renewal of negotiations under the Middle East Quartet’s supervision, picking up direct negotiations where they had left off in 2014 under US President Barack Obama or the issuance of a written statement by Israel whereby the Israeli government is bound to the agreements made with the PA.