As the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks begin to reach their ill-fated end, two of the largest and heavily criticised parties in the Palestinian liberation movement have reunited. A new alliance has been forged between old friends, Hamas and Fatah, after seven years of division. The new unity is causing problems for Israel and American Secretary of State John Kerry.
Thursday’s announcement of a new-found unity between clashing parties of the Palestinian liberation movement, Hamas and Fatah, spells a significant shakeup for the region, if successful. While Fatah and the PLO are the recognised and accepted, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, the majority continue to flock behind Hamas.
The two parties split violently in 2007, when Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip from Fatah, and have not been able to come together since. Fatah and the PLO are seen by the majority of Palestinians as toothless, with some claiming that they too easily appease the Israeli government.
Hamas, however, is internationally recognised as a terrorist organization. But within the shrinking borders of Palestine, especially in the Gaza Strip, they are considered powerful liberators, and one of the few groups who continue to physically defend the Palestinian people, in the face of sheer adversity.
The sudden and unheralded reunion comes as a shock to most parties involved in current peace talks. Deals between the two were sought frequently over the past seven years, the most recent in 2012. The talks, in Egypt, were consistently sabotaged by both parties.
Infected with heavy rhetoric and repeated stalling, previous discussions have brought about no concrete change, but perhaps laid the foundation for today’s tentative peace. With the two holding a combined 119 of the 132 seats on the Palestinian Legislative Council, the reconciliation secures power through unity, and strengthens opposition to Israeli expansion.
The alliance hit Tel Aviv hard, and rattled members of the Israeli government. Prime Minister Netenyahu’s media liaison, Ofir Gendelman, has taken like a storm to Twitter. In one of Gendelman’s magniloquent comments he claims, in Arabic, that “Israel is able to crush Hamas and Fatah” in an apparent message to the Palestinians. He also claims that Palestinian “national unity” does not align with Palestinian-Israeli peace.
Speaking to CNN on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the position of the Israeli government clear; “we’re not going to negotiate with a government backed by Hamas unless Hamas changes its position and says it’s willing to recognize Israel”. The comments were quickly parroted by Israel’s Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who both added that it was unlikely to happen.
The general message flowing out of the Israeli Knesset, is that the unification of Hamas and Fatah “undermines” the peace process. Especially coming just after Israel’s decision to cancel Wednesday night’s negotiating session, citing demands that they could not agree with. The peace talks have essentially broken down since then, a development that has reported support from the US government.
However, some members of the Israeli media are seeing the union as a great opportunity. Barak Ravid, writing in Israel’s Haaretz newspaper, highlight’s the foreign minister’s previous statement that no peace agreement could be made because Abbas and Fatah do not represent all of the Palestinian people. Ravid posits that the reunion will bring both the West Bank and Gaza under a unified, central control and should create “a government that represents all the Palestinians”.
The comments coming out of the Israeli government, and Israel deciding to walk away from the table, heralds the end of the current rounds of peace talks. The negotiations, established by US Secretary of State John Kerry mid last year, are designed to end in the coming months. But they may not end how John Kerry had planned, stating last year that failed talks could signal a third intifada.
The talks have been repeatedly marred by non-cooperation on both sides. Israel’s continuation of its policy of illegally settling land in the West Bank and President Abbas’ inability to control militant factions in the Gaza Strip, have only served to extend the rift between the two nations.
A third intifada may not be the only thing that John Kerry has to fear if the peace talks fail. Although the secretary officially stated in February that he would not run for candidacy in the 2016 presidential election, his rising poll numbers and Hillary Clinton’s sinking popularity has encouraged some members of the American press to question his seriousness.
Kerry’s claim of having “no plans” for a future in politics are countered by his recent actions as Secretary of State, which can only be seen as quietly gearing up for a presidential campaign. His handling of Syria in late 2013 was, although clumsy and uninformed, that of a leader. When President Barack Obama was nowhere to be found on the issue, the State Department’s press briefings contained all of the drum-beating and sabre-rattling that one has come to expect from a twenty-first-century American president. Deciding to tackle the monolithic, and somewhat symbolic in American politics, issue of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, shows Kerry’s conviction to, his view of, stability in the Middle East.
Kerry’s view, however, has been called into question in recent days, over comments that he made to a private audience. Speaking behind closed doors to international officials at the Trilateral Commission, Kerry stated that without the two-state solution, one of two options are available for Israel; “a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens — or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state”. The former example is an apparent critique of the state of Israel and Palestine today.
Kerry has joined a long list of figures linking the regime to apartheid, including former US President Jimmy Carter and South African Archbishop and social rights activist Desmond Tutu. Since the comment’s leak, Kerry has been harassed by a hail of criticism from Jewish activist groups and US politicians, including calls from Republican Presidential hopeful Ted Cruz to resign.
If Kerry does announce his candidacy in the near future, the campaign’s success will be lie squarely on the shoulders of how he has tackled the issues of the Arab world, and the new conflict rising in Eastern Europe. Issues that would cement his position as the strong, military Democrat and a menacing opponent for Hilary Clinton. However if talks with Netanyahu and Abbas break down due to the new-found unity between Hamas and Fatah, that future could be dashed before it begins.