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Fatah-Hamas: A Bloody History of Reconciliations


The announcement that Fatah and Hamas are entering negotiations to reconcile and form a new Palestinian unity government is mistakenly being reported in the media as a significant development. The news of talks between the two rival factions is the latest in a long series of dealings that have invariably ended badly.

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Liberate the Holy Land From Israel: Fatah’s Founding

Fatah was founded in 1959 as the Palestinian National Liberation Movement, whose goal was to liberate the Holy Land from the Jewish state. In the late 1960s, Fatah became the dominant force within the Palestinian Liberation Organization. In 1969, Fatah founder Yasser Arafat became chairman of the PLO. The BBC reported that Arafat ascended to this position after his movement carried out 2,432 terror attacks against Israel in 1969.  

While the PLO’s founding documents call for the total elimination of Israel, the Oslo process of the early 1990’s resulted in the organization promising to accept the existence of the Jewish state. 

Related Reading – The Oslo Accords: Searching For Peace

The First Intifada and the Establishment of Hamas

Hamas was established soon after the First Intifada began in 1987, by radical Sunni Muslims connected to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. As opposed to Fatah, Hamas – whose constitution calls for the destruction of Israel – is still regarded as a terror organization by many in the international community including the United States and European Union. 

Since Arafat remained committed to terrorizing the Jewish state, as seen by his refusal to come to a deal with Jerusalem during the 2000 Camp David Summit and his unleashing of the Second Intifada, Fatah and Hamas cooperated in their attacks against Israel.

Elections Lead to the First Hamas-Fatah Rift

Israel pulled its soldiers and citizens out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, providing an opportunity for the Palestinians to govern themselves and build their own state. Things seemed to be heading in the direction of unity. Elections were held in January 2006. As a result, Hamas took control of the Palestinian legislative body. 

But the two factions could not agree on how to govern together.Ismail Haniya, the leader of Hamas, announced a new Palestinian government on March 29, 2006. Fatah refused to join the government due to Hamas’ refusal to recognize Israel, among other reasons. 

Violence broke out, including assassination attempts against the leaders of both Fatah and Hamas. Hundreds of Palestinians were killed. 

The Prisoner’s Document

In May 2006, Palestinian terrorists in an Israeli prison penned and signed what became known as the “Prisoner’s Document.”  It called for unity among all Palestinian factions in the battle against “Israeli occupation” and a national unity government to head a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders of the West Bank and Gaza. Al Quds (Jerusalem) was to be the capital. This implied an acceptance of the State of Israel in its pre-1967 borders.  

On September 11, 2006 Abbas and Haniyeh agreed to form a new government based on the Prisoner’s Document. But Hamas was not willing to be part of a leadership that recognized Israel. Reconciliation talks stalled, and the fighting continued.  

Fatah and Hamas signed the Saudi-brokered Mecca Agreement in February 2007, in which they committed to ending the violence and forming a unity government. However, over 260 people were killed between March and June 2017. Human Rights Watch reported that these killings included throwing people out of buildings and public executions.

The Hamas Takeover of Gaza

Then in June 2007 Hamas militants, convinced that the international community was funding and arming Fatah to take control of the Gaza Strip, launched a violent takeover. All Fatah ministers were removed from power. Hamas has been in control of the Gaza Strip ever since, and has used the coastal enclave as a launching pad for missile strikes into Israeli cities leading to numerous wars.

Related Reading – In Focus: Israel’s Gaza Wars

Hamas Hatches a Coup Attempt in the West Bank

The two sides signed a peace agreement in Sana’a, Yemen on March 23, 2008.  The deal called for the Gaza Strip to be ruled under a joint leadership, as it was before June 1967. This did not occur. Following Operation Cast Lead, Hamas tortured and executed at least 30 Palestinians – many of whom were Fatah members – accused of collaborating with Israel.  

The two sides met in Cairo in February to restart unity talks, but these fell apart. Egypt made a proposal for Palestinian unity in 2010, but negotiations broke down because – among other things – Hamas’ refusal to renounce violence and recognize Israel’s right to exist. This was followed by the Doha Agreement and Cairo Agreement, both signed in 2012.

Despite these efforts, tensions between Fatah and Hamas reached a peak when the US-backed Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi became President of Egypt in 2013. Al-Sisi decided to keep the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt closed until PA President Abbas was given control of Gaza.  

Hamas saw this as the PA leadership partnering with Israel to blockade the Gaza Strip, and responded by launching a coup attempt to take control of Palestinian areas inside the West Bank. Israeli security services discovered and foiled the plot.

Fatah’s Plan To Take Back the Strip

Then, a reconciliation agreement was signed on April 23, 2014. The deal called for a unity government to be formed within five weeks, and elections for president and the legislature to be held within six months. But the Hamas kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers and Israel’s subsequent Operation Protective Edge put this on hold. 

This round of reconciliation talks ultimately collapsed in 2016, when Fatah leaders began demanding that Hamas relinquish its control of the Gaza Strip and rumors began to circulate about a Fatah plan to take the Strip back by force.  

In October 2017, other Arab countries inserted themselves into the unity efforts. The United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Egypt forced the two sides to sign an agreement giving Fatah full civilian control of Gaza in exchange for assisting Hamas with its economic crisis due to the blockade, including the opening of the Rafah border crossing.  

Israel’s Opposition To Fatah-Hamas Reconciliation

Israel is vehemently opposed to any cooperation between the PA and Hamas. In April 2011 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “the PA must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. There is no possibility for peace with both.” The United States and European Union are also against any reconciliation.  

Meanwhile US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, which the Palestinians have rejected, has pushed them further away from Israel and towards Hamas in  a common struggle against Israel.  

So will this reconciliation rumor lead Fatah to reject its recognition of Israel?  Will the changing environment in the Middle East cause Hamas to do an about face and recognize Israel?  

Or, will the latest Fatah-Hamas reconciliation attempt lead to nothing at all?

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Feature image via Wikimedia Commons.



Dov Lipman