The Vital Need for National Unity of Fateh and Hamas

The Vital Need for National Unity of Fateh and Hamas

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ call on November 15, for the Hamas “gang” to be ousted from Gaza is understandable, but misguided. Hamas are no angels, and their police’s shooting of seven Palestinian demonstrators from Abbas’ Fateh faction earlier this week during a pro-Fateh rally in Gaza is the sort of act that blackens their name. Yet for Abbas to refer to Hamas as a “gang” and ask for their ouster is only going to worsen the tensions between Palestinians, at a time when precisely the opposite is required.

The Fateh-Hamas discord is a distinctly Palestinian problem, but also a reflection of a trend throughout the contemporary Arab world, where single states or societies are increasingly being governed by multiple authorities. These multiple authorities are often proxies for the regional and global powers that face off in the Middle East, especially the United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Israel.

Such dual authorities within a single sovereignty comprise one of the more bizarre Arab contributions to modern world governance history, as seen in Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan, and Somalia — and with others likely to follow.

The dilemma in Palestine is the most severe, because both Hamas and Fateh were legitimately elected by the Palestinian people. It is unlikely that one can defeat the other militarily in all the Palestinian territories, and we certainly do not wish to see that sort of clash happen. The brief fighting in Gaza earlier this year that resulted in Hamas taking control of all of Gaza was a sad spectacle, but probably an inevitable one. Hamas’ claim that it had to defeat the Fateh security forces because they were planning to attack Hamas, with Israeli and American backing, will be verified or discredited by history in due course.

This is not an isolated matter, though. Throughout the region, groups reflecting the two main ideological camps in the Middle East stare each other down politically — as in central Beirut — or clash in the streets with guns, as in Palestine. Pushing this confrontation further with calls to remove one side or the other is at once naïve and further fuel for the confrontational fires.

President Abbas’ problem is that widespread concern about Hamas’ takeover in Gaza is offset heavily by disdain for Fateh’s performance. If Hamas is a “gang,” as Abbas calls them, Fateh is not seen as much better, and indeed it has a much longer track record of mismanagement, incompetence and corruption.

These intra-Palestinian tensions are being exploited by the United States and Israel to try and destroy Hamas, by supporting Abbas and Fateh, and by pushing a bizarre new peace process that is supposed to kick off with a meeting at Annapolis, Maryland in the coming weeks.

This US-driven peace process is unlikely to achieve either credibility or success, if one of its main purposes is to exploit and deepen the Fateh-Hamas split, and structurally link the intra-Palestinian clashes with the resumption of peace talks. Trying to defeat Hamas in this way runs the additional risk of turning Abbas and Fateh into discredited collaborators, whose addiction to power caused them to give more importance to American-Israeli wishes than to the expressed electoral preferences of the Palestinian people.

The solution in Palestine is to merge the two legitimacies represented by Fateh and Hamas, rather than to turn them into gladiators who fight to the finish as foreign emperors watch and cheer. The bottom line for dealing with groups like these must be a combination of two things: their local legitimacy in the eyes of their own people, and their international legitimacy in terms of their willingness to abide by prevailing global norms and relevant UN resolutions and legal conventions. On both counts, Hamas and Fateh have strong and weak points simultaneously.

Together, though, they represent the collective identity, legitimacy and strength of the Palestinian people, and that combination of assets is something that all Palestinians should work to enhance and assert. The American-Israeli approach, backed by increasingly spineless Europeans and a few frightened Arab governments, is to foment discord and a fight to the finish between Hamas and Fateh. This is a catastrophe by any measure.

Hamas is not going anywhere, because it is the organic response of many Palestinians to three cumulative burdens: the failure of their own Fateh-led elite, the continuing aggressive policies of Israel and the United States, and the discord, dysfunction and degradation of Palestinian society. Trying to destroy Hamas by force after it was democratically elected would only strengthen the very forces of defiance, resistance and self-assertion that brought it to power in the first place.

It is astounding that leaders of Fateh, Israel, Europe, and the United States refuse to see this very simple reality, and the corresponding conclusion that Fateh and Hamas must re-negotiate the formation of a national unity government, rather than fight it out on the streets of their shattered society.