Saturday, May 14, 2011

Palestinian reconciliation as the first result of Arab revolutions

When 3 weeks ago, on April 22, I wrote about unpredictable things that can happen before September 2011 and change the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I never thought that the change can come that fast. But on April 27 Hamas and Fatah already declared about their reconciliation deal.
Fatah and Hamas symbols
Let’s analyze how this event became possible, once again without slogans or emotions, and try to see what could be the consequences of such a move.

First of all, why Abu Mazen should have accepted the deal? As some reporters and commentators said this “reconciliation” with the organization that is regarded as terrorist by the US and the EU could, in fact, have negative effect for his own image and  threaten his “UN recognition” project. Here are the explanations:

a. Abu Mazen didn’t really have a choice – he gave his consent to this agreement already a year ago, when the Egyptians tried to bring the two Palestinian factions to table of negotiations.
b. He didn’t have choice because the new Egypt's transition government was pushing for the reconciliation. He could not say "no" to his most important Arab ally.
c. Abu Mazen also estimated that given his perfect image of the peacemaker among the European countries, he can use his reputation to silence the concerns about Hamas. His gamble was correct. Just look at the declarations of France and the Great Britain (to mention the main players) that expressed their satisfaction with Palestinian reconciliation. This fashion of legitimizing Hamas will of course play against Abu Mazen in the near future; I’ll elaborate on this later.

More intriguing question is why, out of the blue, Hamas, decided to “reconcile”? Experts provided us with different estimations, so let’s summarize it briefly.

a. In the wake of the revolution in Syria and some anti-Iranian slogans among the protesters, Hamas realized that his presence in Damascus is not safe anymore. The reports about transfer of its headquarters to Qatar and even Egypt came 3 days before the news about reconciliation.  A mere coincidence? You bet. Hamas was pressed and had to respond quickly to a sudden change of the new balance of powers in the Middle East.
b. A few days after the reconciliation Egypt declared about opening the Rafah crossing that will put an end to an Egyptian-Israeli blockade of Gaza. This would be an achievement for Hamas which they can present to the population of Gaza, that started to express its dissatisfaction both with the blockade and the the Palestinian division.
c. The new Egypt, without Mubarak and with the growing influence of the Moslem brothers, the ideological alma mater of the Hamas, is much more comfortable for Hamas.
d. The new Israeli anti-missile Iron Dome system serves as a new deterrence for Hamas which they still have to overcome.

So, Hamas’ position has been weakened, especially because of the new geopolitical equation. Situation in Syria weakens not only Hamas, but also Hezbollah. According to reports from there, in the middle of April Hassan Nasrallah secretly visited Damascus to discuss the situation in Syria. Some other reports mention the transfer of Hizballah’s weapons from Syrian bases to Hezbollah's own bases in Lebanon. When we add to this possible transfer of Hamas headquarters from Damascus to other countries, we understand that the situation is really bad for Assad’s regime.

So far, about the reasons why Hamas and Fatah decided to sign the agreement. Now let's turn to the question what could be the consequences of a Hamas-Fatah deal.

First of all, it should be clear that Hamas didn’t change its nature and goals. It’s only about tactics, and this is definitely is not forbidden, from their point of view, by any religious or political authority. They can speak about 1967 borders, but at the same time to increase the smuggling of weapons through Sinai, as was reported last week.

Second, they are going to enjoy greater legitimacy at least from some parts of the international community. They will probably even stop – temporarily - firing missiles at Israel, and will send “moderate” messages about 1967 borders and the “national responsibility”, so some countries will see them as legitimate partners, not to mention the European media.

Third, Abu Mazen will continue with his UN recognition project, especially as he can say that he represents both West Bank and The Gaza strip. He will try to keep his own reputation of peacemaker and the reputation of his new government in order to gain support from the West and increase international pressure on Israel. He already makes all the efforts to keep Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the government, since Fayyad is highly respected in the West.

Is there any chance for Hamas to reform itself, as some experts assert? Can Hamas go through the same transformation as Fatah 25 years ago? Hard to believe. It’s true,  Hamas is experiencing similar loss of ally in Syria, as in the 80’s the Yasser Arafat saw the weakening of Soviet Union, and had to choose another path. However, Iran, the "bigger" brother of Hamas, is still there. Moreover, unlike Fatah, Hamas is a religious fundamentalist movement. They are religious fanatics. It would be foolish on the part of Israel to build on option that they will change themselves.

And once again, we should remember many things will happen before September. May be even next week, when American president will deliver his vision on the Middle East. And Israeli Prime Minister will do the same a few days later.