Following just two days of Egyptian-mediated talks between the Palestinian factions, a new reconciliation agreement was announced in Cairo on October 12, 2017. The agreement was signed by Fatah senior member Azzam al-Ahmad and Hamas leader Saleh al-Arouri, and will theoretically return civil and security responsibilities in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority. Representatives from the two sides discussed administration of the unity government in Gaza including border crossings and government employee salaries, but did not speak on the disarmament of Hamas's military wing. The network of tunnels dug under Gaza by Hamas was also not discussed. The Palestinian Authority agreed to ease restrictions on electricity flowing into Gaza that left citizens of the enclave with power only a few hours per day. An Israeli delegation was present at the talks for a short period of time.
Taking the first steps to implement the reconciliation agreement, on November 1, 2017, control of Gaza's border crossings was handed over from Hamas to the Palestinian Authority.
Is there a timetable for implementation of the reconciliation deal?
The reconciliation deal calls for the Palestinian Authority and Hamas to combine their police forces and form a joint ministry by November 1, 2017. Palestinian factions are due to meet again in Cairo on November 21, 2017, for a second round of discussions. Administrative control of Gaza is also to be handed over from Hamas to the Palestinian Authority by December 1, 2017.
Have the Palestinians attempted reconciliation in the past?
The reconciliation deal is an agreement built on the back of previous agreements reached between Hamas and Fatah in 2011 (signed in Cairo), in 2012 (signed in Doha), and in 2014 (signed in Cairo). These agreements, however, were never implemented.
Previous agreements were themselves parts of an extended effort at forging reconciliation in 2008, 2009 and again in 2010.
Does reconciliation mean Hamas will change its stance vis-à-vis Israel?
Hamas remains committed to the destruction of Israel and the agreement does not require the group to meet any of the conditions set by the United States and other Western nations for entering discussions with the organization. Hamas is expected to recognize Israel’s right to exist, cease terrorism and agree to abide by past agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinians. Worse, from a security standpoint, Hamas is not required to disarm, so it can continue to build up its arsenal of rockets, construct tunnels and engage in terror. During the following week Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar scoffed at the idea that his organization would recognize Israel's right to exist, and affirmed that Hamas would insteaddiscuss when we will wipe out Israel.
What is Israel's reaction to Palestinian reconciliation?
Israel has set a number of conditions for dealing with a new Palestinian government that includes Hamas:
- Hamas must recognize Israel and desist from terrorism, as per the Quartet conditions;
- Hamas must be disarmed;
- The two IDF soldiers’ bodies, and two Israeli civilians held hostage by Hamas, must be returned;
- The Palestinian Authority (PA) must prevent smuggling and exercise full security control in Gaza;
- The PA must continue to dismantle Hamas terror infrastructures in Judea and Samaria;
- Hamas must sever ties with Iran; and
- All funds and humanitarian equipment must flow through the PA to Gaza
The Israeli government has vowed not to enter negotiations with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas if they do not acquiesce to these demands.
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar immediately rejected these demands, stating “no one in the world can disarm us.”
What is the international response to Palestinian reconciliation?
Jason Greenblatt, the Trump administration's Special Representative for International negotiations, stressed that any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognise the state of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties -– including to disarm terrorists -- and commit to peaceful negotiations.
Sources: Declan Walsh and David Halbfinger,
Unity Deal Offers Hope for Palestinians and a Respite for Gaza, New York Times, (October 12, 2017);
Fatah, Hamas sign historic reconciliation agreement, YNet News, (October 12, 2017);
Hamas rejects US demands to disarm and recognise Israel, Middle East Eye, (October 19, 2017);
A hopeless reconciliation agreement, YNet News, (October 13, 2017);
Palestinian unity govt must recognise Israel, disarm Hamas: US, Yahoo News, (October 19, 2017);
Will Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal succeed? Al-Jazeera, (October 13, 2017);
Hamas chief: We won’t discuss recognizing Israel, only wiping it out, Times of Israel, (October 20, 2017);
Hamas hands over Gaza border crossings as part of Palestinian reconciliation deal, Telegraph, (November 1, 2017).