Arab-Israeli conflict Fatah Hamas Israel Mahmoud Abbas

On the Hamas-Fatah pact, which “experts” should we believe?

JJ Goldberg reported, via Israel’s Channel 10, that Prime Minister Netanyahu “has instructed his cabinet ministers to stick to a single message regarding the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement [announced last week and signed today in Cairo]…The message: “there is no possible positive component in the reconciliation agreement.” That’s right: Cabinet ministers are forbidden even to speculate on any conceivable upside.”

Apparently Netanyahu’s attempts to demolish government-sanctioned hope didn’t work. Haaretz reported that:

An internal, confidential Foreign Ministry report advises that the creation of a Fatah-Hamas unity government in the Palestinian Authority would offer Israel a strategic opportunity. The views expressed in the paper are clearly counter to those expressed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu…

“The Palestinian move is not only a security threat but also a strategic opportunity to create genuine change in the Palestinian context,” the report states. “Such change may serve the long-term interests of Israel…”

And here is another expert who harbors hope, via Bloomberg:

“Participation in the Palestinian government and the holding of elections will also create more serious pressure on Hamas to work for quiet in the Gaza Strip, which in turn can help advance the diplomatic process,” Shlomo Brom, head of the program on Israel-Palestinian relations at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, said in a paper he circulated by e-mail on the agreement.

They might be wrong. Efraim Halevy, the former Mossad chief who for years has been urging talks with Hamas, might also be wrong. But the same thing is true of the naysayers who are predicting disastrous consequences from this accord. It is a mistake to accept on faith any assertions of any so-called experts on the Middle East, including Israeli officials. If the last few years have taught us anything, it is that the only certainty in the Middle East is uncertainty.

None of the Middle East experts anticipated the sudden reconciliation of Fatah and Hamas. Even Mahmoud Abbas was surprised. None of the experts –including reportedly, the Mossad– anticipated the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt. None of them –including pollsters and Hamas leaders –predicted the Hamas victory in the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006.

So why accept all the confident assertions that nothing positive could possibly develop from this agreement? There is, of course, a very strong case to be made for pessimism. Shimon Peres might have been right when he called the Hamas-Fatah agreement “a fatal mistake…Signing this agreement that will result in elections in another year is liable to allow a terrorist group to control [not only] Gaza [but also] Judea and Samaria… Hamas is not changing its spots…It is not ceasing to be a terrorist group that serves Iran and smuggles weapons.”

Makes sense. But he can’t be certain. No one, except perhaps for the leaders of Hamas, can be certain of what they are going to do and how they are going to act, and I am not sure that they know.

If I were coerced into betting, I would probably bet on more gloom and bloodshed. I would bet, for example, that the relatively successful, joint security apparatus established by the Palestinian Authority and Israel will collapse.

But it makes no sense to bet on anything yet.

Jeroen Gunning claims that there is “a constituency within Hamas which considers compromise on one core goal (liberating all of Palestine) acceptable, if this means Hamas is in a better position to fulfil its other core goals of making Palestinian society more Islamic, increasing social justice and eradicating corruption.”

Isn’t there at least a slim chance that he is right?

Isn’t there at least a chance that, under the auspices of new and obviously ambitious Egyptian interlocuters, the new Palestinian unity government will find a way to free Gilad Shalit? Or that Hamas-Fatah will surprise the world by tamping down on terrorists and rocketeers? Or that, if Palestinian elections do take place, Abbas, Salaam Fayyad and Fatah will win? Or that –before or after the elections–, for the sake of its own political survival, Hamas will decide to give Abbas the leeway to enter into serious negotiations with Israel, in either a bilateral or multilateral framework? Or that Hamas will agree to accept the results of a referendum on any agreement Abbas reaches with Israel?

Of course the odds against anything good resulting from a Palestinian unity government are very big. But so were the odds against toppling Mubarak, or, for that matter, creating the Jewish state. Shouldn’t the Hamas-Fatah accord at least be given a chance, a careful and cautious test? And if the answer is no, then what is the alternative?

35 thoughts on “On the Hamas-Fatah pact, which “experts” should we believe?

  1. Firstly, I don’t find the reconciliation surprising. I see the split as largely superficial, a result of western armtwisting of Abbas in combination with realpolitik within Fatah and Hamas and an Egyptian preference for the status quo.

    Much of that has changed lately.
    Firstly, the Egyptian leadership has seemingly turned that ship around quickly.
    Second, the wave of uprisings have probably changed the balance of power within both Fatah and Hamas, and has probably also turned leaders’ eyes towards other issues. the equation is changed. Third, some European countries are taking a more pragmatic stance against Hamas, somewhat easing Abbas’ position to bargain.
    Fourth, there is a planned declaration of independence. Hamas probably want to join that train, hence they have to reconcile with Fatah and re-enter the game.
    Fifth, the proposed government is a technocratic one that is supposed to sit for a very limited time – until fresh elections in a fresh state.

    The reconciliation is not a surprise. Further, if you believe in a two-state solution, it is good, as it is the only way to bring that option back from the dead. If you think the one-state solution is the only viable option, it actually doesn’t matter much. If you want to preserve the status quo, well, then the reconciliation is really bad news, as it enables the UDI scenario to proceed.

  2. Interesting argument: “a very strong case to be made for pessimism”…”I would probably bet on more gloom and bloodshed…that the relatively successful joint security apparatus established by the Palestinian Authority and Israel will collapse”…”isn’t there at least a chance”…”surprise the world”…”Of course the odds against anything good resulting from a Palestinian unity government are very big.”

    Did Bibi put you up to writing this? I’ve always admired the “realistic” aspect of Realistic Dove, but if you’re going to be this even-handed and realistic, maybe you should draw the obvious conclusion?

    The question in the last sentence takes us back to the Oslo period in the 1990s. I remember it well. “We have to believe that peace with the Palestinians is now possible; otherwise, what’s the alternative?”

    The “careful and cautious test” also has a 1990s ring to it. Remember “reversibility”? That was the big word in the early 1990s. “If the Palestinians won’t honor their commitments, then the treaty will be void.” Then, when people realized that the process was politically irreversible (except by war), the word disappeared from the discourse. There’s no such thing as a careful and cautious test on something this big.

  3. Aaron, what happened during the Oslo period did not eliminate the necessity to answer the question: what’s the alternative?

    What may throw Dan and his J Street chaverim for a loop is that Abbas is clearly disgusted with the Obama administration and is taking other diplomatic routes. And with an election coming up there is no way Obama is going to propose anything that could conceivably close the gaps between the parties. So American Jewish groups that have been obsessively calling for more creative American diplomacy may lose their political relevance. They’re not going to get their lefty American Jewish base very excited if they send out action alerts calling for action by the Quartet…

  4. The biggest gamble for the reconciliation is for Palestinians.

    Its all in elections. If Palestinians elect militants to leadership positions in the permanently unified PA, then there is a greater likelihood of out and out war between Israel and Palestine.

    And, in that event, Israel will seek to control militarily strategic locations more securely and exclusively, resulting in likely more displacement of Palestinian civilians based on more credible Israeli military logic.

    If, on the other hand, Hamas agrees to negotiate with Israel for a permanent two-state approach, even with limited right of return, the result can be quiet, even something describable as peace and viability for Palestine.

  5. If, on the other hand, Hamas agrees to negotiate with Israel for a permanent two-state approach, even with limited right of return, the result can be quiet, even something describable as peace and viability for Palestine.

    Ha, something that is hard to do, when Hamas says it is prepared to give peace with Israel a chance but Israel says it won’t negotiate with a Palestinian version of Al Qaeda (both articles on the same from page of today.)

  6. Yes, the unknown.

    To date, Hamas has not yet proposed coexistence with Israel.

    There was an article in the NY Times headlined “Hamas Calls for Two State Solution”, but refuses to renounce violence against civilians even, or to comment on longer term intentions.

  7. I don’t know how this will go, but it is nice to see America treated with disdain by the Palestinian factions. They seem to realize that if they wait for us to help them out they’ll be stuck with a peace process that leads to never-ending settlement growth.

  8. Because next to a brilliant guy like Jeroen Gunning who the hell is a guy like Netanyahu. Just some idiot

  9. Both Hamas and Fatah are corrupt and are not good leaders for the Palestinians. However they seem to be unstoppable in electoral politics within the so-called Palestinian “Authority” (Fatah is a part time lackey to Israel). I cannot see anything happeing unless the Israeli government ceased settlement building immedieately. We all know the Palestinians would never accept anything less than Israel going back across the green line and taking their settlers with them. We also know that Israel will not accept such a demand. So the two-state solution is running out of time.

  10. Bill Perlman,

    Who the hell is this ex-Mossad chief Efraim Halevy? Or Yuval Diskin, the outgoing head of the Shin Bet, who said the Israeli government shouldn’t over-react to the unity pact? Or the Foreign Ministry people who wrote that report? Just a bunch of “idiots,” I suppose…Again, the question is which of the experts do you want to believe?

  11. Yes, who the hell is Efraim Halevy???? I will tell who is Efraim Halevy Mr. Realistic or something: He & Danny Yatom were the worst Mossad chiefs in history. In his tenure the Mossad stagnated.

  12. ps
    “Realistic Dove” who designate himself as “Pro-Israel” doesn’t give Kosher stamp of approval to Antisemitic sites like Mondoweiss. Guess the mask sometimes fall unintentionally.

  13. Bill Pearlman,

    Former Mossad Chief Meir Dagan said that attacking Iran militarily would be a “dumb idea.” I guess that makes him a self-hating Jew?

  14. I realize this may be simplistic–but I’ve come to the conclusion that unless more stable Arab states starting pressuring Palestinian leadership financially and politically to give up the war game–and yes, make some concessions (e.g., no right of return) this will be stalemate forever.

    It seems to me that Palestinian “government” is just too politically fractured and chaotic to ever be credible or trustworthy.

    Imagine if Mexico was like that–right now it’s scary enough across our border but nowhere near the levels of the territories. Honestly, what would you do if your neighbor was that unstable?

    I know that Tom likes to use Northern Ireland as a reference point–and I think that’s valuable. However, didn’t the IRA have external pressure to let go of the extremism?

  15. Suzanne,

    I agree that the conflict is nowhere near to being settled at this time. This is because neither the Palestinians nor Israel is willing and/or able to make the kind of concessions necessary for peace. The Palestinians were formally divided between the two main parties with very different viewpoints. It will take quite some time to see which one of the two has changed its views, if either has. It is more likely that both got together temporarily for tactical reasons that came about because of the Arab Spring.

    Israel has a party system that does not allow governments to take principled stands in opposition to settlement. When under pressure they waffle.

    You are wrong about Mexico and Palestine. The West Bank is much more orderly than northern Mexico. Journalists are much safer covering politics in the West Bank than covering the drug trade in Mexico.

    Most of the pressure in Northern Ireland came from the British security forces frustrating the efforts of the IRA. Dublin wanted the IRA to fulfill certain conditions before media restrictions on Sinn Fein were lifted. But once the Good Friday Agreement was concluded in April 1998 neither London nor Dublin put much real pressure on the IRA of an effective sort. The biggest pressure came from the Bush administration and ordinary Irish-Americans refusing to donate any more to the IRA after 9/11. Irish-Americans suddenly understood what terrorism was about!

    The Arab governments have traditionally used the Arab-Israeli conflict as a means of deflecting popular anger outwards and away from themselves. Ireland, a democracy and nowhere near as corrupt as Arab countries, had no need to do this. Although Charles Haughey occasionally played the “green card” between 1980 and 1992 while both prime minister and leader of the opposition, the IRA and other republican paramilitary groups were strictly illegal in Ireland. I imagine that for sometime Arab countries will be focused inwards. If the Arab autocracies survive, they will probably return to the same game plan as before. But even if they are replaced by popular governments (not to mention democracies), these countries will still continue to be anti Israel. This is because the populations have been raised for decades exposed only to anti-Israel propaganda and because most of the Arabs countries are overwhelmingly (80%+) Muslim. And Israel continues to illegally occupy Arab land for its settlements and to seize more land for more settlement. In Northern Ireland the British government forced reforms on the province between 1969 and 1979 that dealt with most of the major grievances of the nationalist population besides the constitutional issue (of sovereignty). America has refrained from similarly pressuring Israel. When it has asked for temporary freezes on settlements the Bill Pearlmans have become quite upset.

  16. Tom-
    Suzanne’s point is that Mexico does not harbor violent groups that threaten and attack the US. The drug barons there don’t have a political agenda. During World War I there was the Pancho Villa problem where US citizens were attacked by Mexicans from across the border and President Wilson responded by sending an expeditionary force into Mexico which pretty much failed in its mission, but Mexico has been careful to prevent things of this sort from happening since then.

    Although I agree with much of your analysis I don’t agree regarding the parallel with Northern Ireland. You, of course, realize that the IRA has no problem with the existence of the UK, they simply want control of Northern Ireland, which they say is part of Ireland. As I understand it, there are also significant divisions among the Protestants of Northern Ireland….some of them viewing themselves as Irishmen who are loyal to the Queen, whereas others view themselves as transplanted Britons who don’t consider themselves as being Irish in any sense. There are also religious division on the Protestant side (Anglican-Church of Ireland vs. Presbyterians- please correct me if I am wrong). This complicates politics on their side.
    The Palestinians say that ALL of Israel/Palestine is part of the Arab/Muslim Middle East and the UN had no right to partition it, just as the IRA and the more moderate Catholic nationalists claim about Northern Ireland. This makes the conflict intractable. Although I think there may be some room for a compromise long-term modus vivendi when political Islam has become discredited, even this won’t be enough. It should be realized that political Islam is just getting started among Sunnis and it will take a long time to reach the state when the Arabs realized it has failed them (although many, maybe most Arabs look at Iran and say that the Islamist state there has failed, it must be remembered that they are Shi’ites and so the Sunnis can say THEIR (true) Islamism has not yet been tried.
    I have ordered a book by John Calvert about Sayid Qutb and the rise of radical political Islamism. Qutb says the reason the Arabs have failed to eradicate Israel and to develop their countries is because they have not implemented “true” Islam, so fiddling around with various economic systems and political arrangements is a waste of time until the Arabs return to this “true” Islam. If the Muslim Brotherhood is following Qutb’s beliefs it will take a long time before it is realized that it is a dead end. So don’t expect any changes in the Arab/Israeli conflict for a long time.

  17. Maybe Israel at some point will choose to negotiate with Hamas. But why should anyone pretend that Hamas is something that it’s not and then be taken seriously, whether he or she is an expert or not? On this one I defer without reservation to the Israeli people.

  18. Ya’akov,

    If we ever were to have a united Ireland, the unionists would face exactly the same choice as Israeli Jews in an Arab-dominated one-state solution: live under a hostile and potentially dangerous regime or emigrate. The fact that all unionists are native English-speakers and carry British passports would make their short trip across the Irish Sea to either Scotland or England a little easier. But they would still be emigrating to what is culturally a foreign country. The Irish nationalists would also find a fair amount of culture shock when unity occurs. But many of the Israeli settlers also carry foreign passports from the U.S., the UK, Russia, or Ukraine.

    The unionist Right (Vanguard, the DUP before 2007, the UKUP and now the Traditional Unionist Voice) employ the same tactics as the Israeli Right. They play up statements by Irish republicans, North and South; they harped on Articles 2 and 3 of the Irish constitution that claimed Northern Ireland; and they portrayed the British government in London as hostile and treacherous. If we substituted Washington for London and the stages strategy resolutions of 1974 for the Irish constitution, this would be almost identical to what the Israeli Right does. And when one considers that Northern Ireland has its own party system, a form of proportional representation, and even its own religious parties, the parallels are quite clear.

    It is the job of nationalists to stress how uniquely virtuous their nation is, how perfidious its enemies are and how much danger it is in. Political scientists on the other hand like to classify and use comparative case studies as natural experiments to draw conclusions about the operations of politics. I am a trained political scientist and you’ve demonstrated that you are nothing if not a nationalist.

  19. Tom-
    A couple of interesting facts:
    (1) I saw a film on YOUTUBE which claimed that Churchill, at the worst part of World War II, offered Irish reunification if Eire (Ireland) were to enter the war (the main interest in having bases to conduct anti-submarine warfare in the Atlantic and to protect the “Western Approaches” to Great Britain. The film claims Irish Prime Minister Eamon de Valera (the man who expressed his condolences to Germany on the tragic death of their Fuhrer) turned it down, the primary reason being he didn’t want a large Protestant population in his Irish Republic. In other worlds, “Irish reunification” was to be a poltical weapon to be used by the Irish Republic, but something never really meant to be implemented.

    (2) Today, everyone admits that De Valera’s Fianna Fail Ireland was a backwards, poverty-stricken country dominated by a reactionary “Jensenist” (sp?) form of Roman Catholicism that banned birth control, divorce and even Superman comics. The Ulster Unionists did have good reason not to want to be part of that.
    But, today that is all history. The Republic of Ireland is secularizing and modernizing and has until recently been advancing economically. What is it that Unionists exactly fear today? Obviously, this situation is quite different than that in Israel.

  20. Tom-
    Yes, I am an Israeli Orthodox-religious Right-wing pro-settler Zionist/Nationalist, and proud of it. I was not born into this, I come from California from a “traditionalist” but non-Orthodox family. I attended public schools in California and have a BS and MS from UCLA in Geophysics. I work as an engineer. So you see, we “fanatics” come from the most unexpected backgrounds. A good friend of mine who recently passed away also identified the same way I do, and he came from a far-Left New York Jewish family. He because an active atheist Marxist socialist in New York and was particularly active in the anti-Vietnam War movement. Just goes to show, you never can tell.

  21. It’s not exactly unusual for an engineer to be a fanatic.


    And the Marxist who converts to the far right is practically a cliche.
    From a human rights standpoint it hardly requires any movement at all–you just rationalize a different set of atrocities.

  22. Big difference Tom. If perchance you and Dan, Rich. And I’m not even going near Phil ( Hitler should have finished the job ) Weiss are wrong your lives are just fine. Its Israelis that catch the heat. And weighing the repercussions of an attack on Iran is not the same has replaying Munich, 1938

  23. Donald-
    The assumption you are making is that I am a fanatic simply because I have a different set of political and religious beliefs than you do. That is unwarranted. To me a “fanatic” is someone who can’t accept that other people think differently than he does. If you want to see “fanatics” go look at Phil Weiss’s MONDOWEISS anti-Zionist site. There all dissenters from the official line are cursed, denounced, bad-mouthed, etc.
    My friend, the former Marxist, fully identified with Jewish religious tradition which calls on people to be sensitive to others and respectful of their views, even if they are not his own.
    I, on the other hand, and NOT a former Leftist, so people come from all kinds of backgrounds to other views.

  24. YBD:

    One of De Valera’s leading biographers wrote that he turned down the offer for two reasons: 1) he wasn’t really sure how serious Churchill was and didn’t trust him; and 2) dealing with over a million unionists who didn’t want to be part of the Free State would have created a major security problem for Ireland. De Valera used a united Ireland mainly as a branding device to differentiate his party from the more moderate Fine Gael party.

    The unionists simply don’t want to be part of Ireland. It is their right. Many of the unionists are uncomfortable with the new secular ethos of the Republic just as they were uncomfortable with the ethos of De Valera’s Ireland.

    And you should know that most of the leading figures in Al Qaeda come from an educated scientific or medical background.

  25. Bill Pearlman,

    You branded me an anti-semite because I said that the U.S. attacking Iran would not be a smart idea. Meir Dagan said the same thing. This just goes to show how emotional and non-rational your type of thinking is. Iran is not just a problem for Israel it is also a major problem for the U.S. But I don’t believe that a military attack on it would improve the situation any.

  26. Has usual Tom you totally misread. Meir Dagan is a patriot of the highest order. And personally i never thought an air raid on Iran was feasible. Not least of which is because they would have to get the green light from Obama. And he wold rather cut his arm off. What I was saying is that i don’t see the great thing about having a bunch of homicidal maniacs in the Palestinian government is such a great development. Although when you compare them to the PA its really only a question of degree.

    BTW, I’d like to know what you, Dan, Rich, Peter, and the rest of the kumbaya battalion would do if you were PM of Israel. considering whats going on with the Syrian and Lebanese borders. I’m sure its brilliant.

  27. YBD–I called you a fanatic because you’re pro-settler, not simply because we disagree. I disagree with Dan Fleschler, but wouldn’t call him a fanatic because he isn’t one. I don’t think you can defend settlement activities unless you want a one state solution and would allow Palestinians to move back inside the Green Line. I can understand the religious desire of Jews to live in the land of the Bible–I’m Christian myself and presumably share some fraction of your religious beliefs which means I actually do sympathize there to some degree. If there was ever a peaceful and fair solution to the conflict I’d like to visit Israel/Palestine myself. But if you want Jews to be able to live anywhere inside what was Biblical Israel then it seems to me you have to accept the Palestinian right to live inside their own homeland. If you don’t want the latter then you’re going to have to compromise on the former. Personally I’d like to see a solution where both sides share the land and live happily ever after, but that doesn’t appear too likely for now.

  28. Good points, Donald. Although Yakov isn’t probably as much of a fanatic as you imagine. His views are reasonably fairly typical of those that have closely experienced the second intifada and what preceeded and followed; in contrast to us that only get it through news (if that).

  29. Just out of curiosity. Does the news and events that are going on now mean anything to you Dan. Anything at all

  30. Bill,

    If you mean what happened today on the borders of Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, and in East Jerusalem…it is all very upsetting, very sad. Two peoples, two vastly different narratives, and never the twain shall meet…What else is there to say?

  31. Can you at least entertain the possibility that for an Israeli soldier on the border. Even though it would make guys like Tony Kushner and Phil Weiss feel better if he got killed, he might have a different idea about that outcome. And think perhaps that guys like Netanyahu and Lieberman know what they are talking about.

  32. Donald-
    I have stated this before, but what I am certain will eventually evolve in the West Bank is an UNOFFICIAL modus vivendi in which Jews will continue to live in the settlements, as Israelis, and the Palestinians will have self-government but not an independent state, although it will pretty much function as one. Israel will still control security on the borders and access to the settlements.
    Any “officially” independent Palestinian state will HAVE to work to undermine the peace and will continually maintain friction with Israel and, in any event, the Palesitnians will never be able to make the concessions necessary for an agreement to be reached. Thus, the modus-vivendi is the only possible outcome, but this will happen only when the Palestinians and the rest of the Arab world are convinced that Israel is strong as a rock and not willing to make the suicidal concessions the Arabs are demanding. Holding on to the settlements is thus VITAL for Israel to prove to the Arabs that Israel is not going to disappear, as much as they are wanting that to happen…Palestinians moderates and extremists alike.

    Here is an article by Dr Mordechai Kedar pointing out how Israeli weakness and concessions simply encourage violence:

    BTW-The reason I mentioned by scientific and engineering background is because in Israel, it is common to view religious Jews as being uneducated ignoramuses.

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