Wedding bells are once again ringing for Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA).
But don’t rush out to rent a tux or check out their gift registry at WeaponsRUs just yet.
This match made in hell faces the same obstacles as the last time these frenemies tried to make nice with each other in 2014.
And make no mistake. Whatever the two parties say about Palestinian unity and building bridges, this latest attempt at a shotgun wedding has nothing to do with advancing the peace process or Hamas becoming more moderate.
It’s all about protecting a fiefdom, in the case of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, and finding money to keep the lights on in Gaza for Hamas.
Let’s go back in time to set the context.
In 2006, Palestinians held general elections for the first time in 10 years. Before these elections, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) had been dominated by Abbas’ Fatah movement.
But this time around, Hamas won 74 of 132 seats, and briefly formed a government. Israel and the Quartet on the Middle East soon imposed sanctions, and the U.S. encouraged other governments to suspend aid to the new entity.
After initially refusing to form a coalition government with Hamas, Abbas signed an agreement for a national unity government in February 2007.
Four months later, however, all bets were off. After a week of bloody clashes between Hamas and Fatah that left 118 people dead and more than 550 wounded, Hamas took control of Gaza and Fatah retreated to Ramallah.
Now in his 12th year of what was supposed to be a four-year term, Abbas hasn’t risked calling elections since then.
But things have worked out reasonably well for the two sides. Abbas and Fatah get to be portrayed as the good guys, even though they have continued to fund Hamas’s operations in Gaza. That includes water, electricity and generous payments to terrorists and their families.
Every two years or so, Hamas provokes a war against Israel, hides behind civilian targets and then sets up Israel as the bad guy.
Not only have Abbas’s hands stayed clean, but he gets to play statesman and worm his way into international bodies – most recently Interpol – despite his regime’s glorification of terrorists and refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
So what led to the latest attempt at a unity government?
To start, Abbas pulled the plug on Hamas’s funding last April. The ostensible reason was pressure from the U.S., which is soon to pass the Taylor-Force Act that would cut off funding to the PA if it continues to pay terrorist salaries.
The funding cut was also retaliation for Hamas’s overtures to Muhammad Dahlan, a former ally who has been Abbas’s arch enemy since 2011.
Instead of punishing Hamas for favouring Dahlan, however, Abbas’s plan backfired.
Dahlan is based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which is allied with Egypt. Both countries have wanted Hamas to sever ties with Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood, and Dahlan helped make that happen.
As a reward, and in hopes of weakening Hamas’ ties with Iran, Egypt permitted longer hours for border crossings with Gaza, and allowed residents of Gaza to pass through Egypt on their pilgrimages to Mecca. And the UAE started paying some of Hamas’s bills.
So Abbas, in danger of becoming the odd man out, essentially surrendered to Hamas by proposing the unity government. The only concession Hamas had to make was to dismantle its civil governing authority, which was formed only after Abbas cut off funding in the spring.
The PA will restore its funding, and Hamas can concentrate on building tunnels and planning its next war with Israel.
At time of writing, the two sides have signed an interim reconciliation deal in Cairo – but without resolving any of their major conflicts.
Among other issues, Hamas refuses to disarm, and Fatah doesn’t want to pay Hamas’ 40,000 employees in Gaza. And Israel won’t accept any reconciliation that does not include accepting international agreements and recognizing Israel.
We’ll know more when all factions meet again on November 21.
Whatever the outcome, the leaders of the PA and Hamas are playing political games to secure power and score points against Israel. Their pawns are the residents of Gaza, who are living in literal and figurative darkness while their leaders profit from foreign aid and the willful ignorance of the international community.
They may be dancing at their pretend wedding, but they’re really dancing on the graves of their own people – and that of the peace process.