Hamas and Fatah move towards political unity

 As Hamas and Fatah reform their alliance what exactly lay behind their feud?

Protestors unfurl Palestinian flag London 2009

The leaders of Fatah and Hamas, the main Palestinian political organisations, have signed a deal in Egypt’s capital Cairo aimed at ending their bitter four-year feud. They will now form an interim government and agree a date for a general election. In a further move that is seen as a shift in Egyptian attitudes towards Israel, Egypt has agreed to open the Rafah border crossing.

Israel has rejected the agreement, refusing to negotiate with a government involving Hamas. The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, called the deal “a tremendous blow to peace and a great victory for terrorism.”Israeli critics argue that the deal is just an attempt at political survival by Hamas and have urged the EU not to recognise it. “We will insist on reconciliation, bolster steadfastness, and face occupation with unity,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh responded. 

However, according to Haaretz, sources close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have suggested that he will seek to form a government which will accept the demands of the diplomatic Quartet, composed of the US, the UN, the EU and Russia, including recognition of Israel. President Abbas said the accord ends “four black years” that hurt national Palestinian interests.

The two sides have yet to reach agreement over the identity of the prime minister who would head the unity government.

The origins of the split

Apart from the fact that neither group are the unified entities that Israel and America wish to project, the rhetoric obscures some darker truths. Israel, echoed by the USA and Europe have at differing times, funded and aided both sides and in the case of Fatah, provided weapons to provoke a coup.

Israel gave direct and indirect aid to Hamas in order to divert the Palestinian public away from Arafat and the PLO. It was also useful for the Likud leadership to ally themselves to a religious alternative to the secular, nationalistic Fatah, and thus deepen control of the occupied territories. According to US intelligence officials, this began in the 1970’s and continued for further years.

Sheik Ahmed Yassin the spiritual leader of Hamas was granted a licence by the government of Menachim Begin to found a religious and social work organisation called Al-Mujamma al Islami.

According to a UPI report that references documents they obtained from the Israel-based Institute for Counterterrorism, the money was provided by various oil-producing states and directly or indirectly from Israel. Begin, followed by his successor Yitzhak Shamir, supported the growth of the Village Leagues which were comprised of local councils with selected councillors on the Israeli payroll.

The combination of educational, social and religious aid networks that supported the hardships of a refugee population led to massive influence that was easily later converted to political power. The revolution in Iran provided a role model for the rise of religious conservatism while the PLO languished in exile in Beirut.

Divide and conquer

The Quartet, led by the Americans who were horrified at the victory of Hamas over Fatah in the 2006 Palestinian elections, produced yet another ‘covert operation’ that Vanity Fair has described as “part Iran-contra, part Bay of Pigs.”

The project involved George Bush, Condoleeza Rice and Elliot Abrahams backing an armed militia under Fatah. The militia, headed by the infamous Muhammad Dahlan, fired up a violent civil war that left Hamas even stronger than before. Dahlan, no stranger to the CIA, was already working closely with them during the Clinton era.

According to Vanity Fair, Dahlan, who later became the national security advisor to Abbas, met with Bush three times and was known by Bush as ‘our guy’. With new weapons and funding, the US plan was for Dahlan’s forces to overthrow the democratically elected Hamas government.

However, Hamas got wind of the plot and seized control of Gaza. What many allege is that Hamas had no intention of taking the Gaza Strip until forced into it by the actions of Fatah.

The 2006 elections were pushed ahead by the Americans with Fatah insisting it wasn’t prepared. State Department officials helped finance and direct the electoral campaign of Fatah, while Mohammed Abbas was credited with USAID development projects in a marketing blitz that didn’t fool too many people.

Fatah was a fractured movement that suffered from corruption and inefficiency and was deeply unpopular in the occupied territories. Thus Hamas with it’s reputation for honesty and social work gained 56 percent of the seats.

Meanwhile, in an interview aired on the BBC’s Radio 4, British diplomat Sir Jeremy Greenstock revealed that talks had been taking place with Hamas during the run-up to the Israeli war on Gaza in 2008. Sir Jeremy revealed that along with colleagues he had introduced Hamas to Sin Fein as Hamas was interested in the way that Sin Fein had been able to shift from violent militancy to a legitimate political party. Greenstock commented that:

“this is a regime about which a lot of inaccurate statements are made particularly by the Israeli and Washington governments.”

Greenstock believes that Hamas were very ready to follow the precedent set by the transformation of the IRA from an army into “something more concerned with politics” and that Israel was fully aware of this before they started the war in Gaza.