The two main rival factions in Palestine, Fatah and Hamas, signed a reconciliation agreement in Cairo, Egypt on Thursday in an effort to unite Palestine. This deal gives hope for a united Palestine, and if it holds strong, would end the decade-long violent conflict between the two authorities. Although similar initiatives have fallen through in the past, there is optimism that this one will persist and unite Palestine in a path towards peace. Especially regarding the current humanitarian crisis in Gaza, the stakes for the success of this agreement are much higher than they have been in the past. Even so, there are still lingering issues that have caused the downfall of past agreements and it is unclear as of yet how the two sides plan to resolve them.
Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas controls the West Bank while Hamas has been the de facto ruler of the Gaza Strip since 2007. The disputes between the two groups began in 2007 when Hamas evicted the Palestinian Authority from Gaza in a violent conflict, refusing to recognize the parliamentary election results. Specific issues that have impeded reconciliation in the past include the Palestinian Authority’s demands that Hamas disband its military wing and give up full control of security, which Hamas had previously denied.
Earlier this month, the Prime Minister of Palestine, Rami Hambdallah, entered Gaza for the first time in two years, promising to improve the lives of Gaza residents and reconcile divisions in Palestine. The meeting renewed optimism that Fatah and Hamas could reach a successful agreement. Furthermore, Egypt’s General Intelligence Service has worked with both Fatah and Hamas to reach this reconciliation, which has helped the process. An advisor to President Abbas said, regarding this week’s agreement, “The difference is Egypt. Cairo has a vested interest in this reconciliation.”
Many details of the agreement are still undisclosed, but they have announced that the Palestinian Authority will take control of all border crossings into Gaza from both Israel and Egypt starting November 1. Hamas will also give full control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority by December 1, leading to the creation of a new unity government by January 2018.
The stakes are high because the residents of Gaza are currently facing an extreme humanitarian crisis. According to CNN, only one in ten residents has access to safe drinking water, electricity is only available a few hours a day, and the United Nations has warned that the region may be unliveable by 2020. The unity agreement may offer these Palestinians relief from these conditions; the Palestinian authority has agreed to lift electrical sanctions it imposed on Gaza earlier this year and Hamas’ relinquished control of the Rafah border will facilitate supply shipments to the region.
Although the Palestinians hope this deal will allow them to face Israel as a united force, Israel has previously stated that it will not accept a unified Palestine if Hamas is part of it. The United States and the European Union officially declared Hamas a terrorist organization, and during the deal signed in 2011 between Fatah and Hamas, Israel condemned it as a “victory for terrorism” and the deal fell through. Israel has not yet dismissed the current unity agreement, but CNN reports that Hamas’ military wing and weapon stockpiles will be Israel’s greatest concern, especially since Hamas has committed to the destruction of Israel; Palestine has not yet revealed a resolution to these concerns. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated the Israeli position last week and said, “We expect everyone who talks about a peace process to recognize the State of Israel…and we are not prepared to accept bogus reconciliations in which the Palestinian side apparently reconciles at the expense of our existence.”
Egypt has set the next step of the agreement process of a meeting in Cairo with all of the Palestinian factions to discuss the unity government. The unity deal between Fatah and Hamas is a significant and necessary step towards peace in the region and unity in Palestine. That being said, there are a lot of factors that could still affect the future of this agreement, so what happens in the next upcoming months will be crucial to its success and the potential of a united Palestine.
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