Israel’s Role in the Fatah-Hamas Rivalry
Israel is supportive for a delay in the PLC elections for the same reason as Fatah: fear of a decisive victory for Hamas. Many Israelis also worry about that if the PA is busy with campaigning, it would have difficulty assisting the coordination of the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza this summer. While he is embroiled in his own political struggle concerning the planned “disengagement” from Gaza, the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, has expressed his interest in supporting Abbas’ approach of competing with Hamas.
Abbas had emphasized the importance of the release from prison of members of Fatah who support him and have influence in the West Bank and Gaza. Sharon’s release of some 400 prisoners, the majority of whom are members of Fatah, was partly a gesture which meant to strengthen Fatah. Responding to criticism that releasing of Palestinian prisoners will create tension with settlers in Gaza, Sharon stated that he was sure that the settlers “understand the need for strengthen the principle moderate element in the PA and honor our commitments. While releasing the prisoners it may raise the confidence of Palestinians in the PA,withal there are more important steps for Israel to take. Particularly important, given the increasing fragility of the ceasefire between the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) and Palestinian militants, is Israel’s response to attacks against it. Islamic Jihad and Hamas have increasingly launched mortar and rocket attacks against Israeli interests throughout the process leading up to “disengagement”. There has also been an increase in suicide bombing attempts within the green line, which culminated in the recent suicide bombing outside a mall in Netanya. These actions, which particularly incite reaction of Israel, have threatened the ceasefire, and could threaten the “disengagement.”
In the past, IDF officials maintained that Israel would try to refrain from responding to attacks in order to allow Abbas to handle the situation himself. They, furthermore, claimed that they would give the PA the first oppurtunity to react to attacks against Israel because they did not wish to provide the PA with an excuse to delay acting against Hamas and Islamic Jihad. The ceasefire between Israel and the Palestinians and the process of “disengagement” was constantly vulnerable, therefore, to the balance of power between Israel and the PA, the PA and Hamas, and Israel and Hamas.
Concluding Remark: Whither Hamas and Fatah Rivalry?
Everything seemed to indicate that a breakthrough was achieved by Egyptian mediation efforts towards reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah. This would have enabled them to resume the cooperation and “Palestinian unity”.  But despite Fatah’s official signing for the proposed agreement, Hamas leader Khaled Masha’al announced his movement for rejection of the reconciliation.
The round of Egyptian mediation began in August this year and culminated with both sides consent to sign a “reconciliation agreement” on October 22. The signing, which would end their total split and pave the way for presidential and parliamentary elections on 28 June 2010, has now been delayed by several weeks.  According to the agreement, eighty percent of the delegates for the Palestinian parliament would be elected on a party basis, and twenty percent by constituency. A special committee with delegates from all factions reporting to Chairman Abbas would assume control of the Gaza Strip and supervise the elections. The Gaza Strip was also to see the return of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the establishment of a new security force, staffed with members of all Palestinian factions. However, given the depth of the conflict and the record of relations between the two, there is little reason to believe that reconciliation and political cooperation between them is possible.
The two-decade long Fatah-Hamas conflict can hardly be seen as a “normal” political competition between two movements over the soul of the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Their relations assume a ‘zero- sum’ nature due to the latter’s exclusivist Islamist ideology and interpretations concerning the legitimacy of power. From the outset, Hamas offered an alternative Islamic-nationalist vision and practice over the failed secular-nationalist strategy represented by the PLO and especially its leading element, Fatah. In the mid-1980s the PLO had lost its Lebanese territorial base and military option.  Without a realistic diplomatic option, it seemed to it have lost its relevance as a national liberation movement, to save its established foothold among Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Hamas had an advantage over the PLO/Fatah because of the truly emergence from within,and as an “inside” movement, was by far more attentive and more familiar to the needs and grievances of the Palestinian society, particularly in the Gaza Strip.
The signing of the Oslo accord in 1993 came as a major psychological blow to Hamas, with triggering fears of political elimination by Arafat’s PA. But it turned out to be a baseless and hence to a short-lived fear. The perceived failure of the Oslo process and stained image of Fatah’s leadership as dysfunctional, corrupt and stagnant led to unprecedented rise in Hamas’s popularity. This has further augmented Israel’s military retaliation to suicide attacks by Palestinians and systematic destruction of the PA security-bureaucratic infrastructure. Under these conditions Hamas managed to increase its military capabilities and armaments. By early 2003, large areas of the Gaza Strip were out of reach for the PA’s police and security apparatuses came under effective, even exclusive, control of Hamas. During the Oslo years (1993-2000) Hamas adhered to a policy of official boycott for the conducted political process by the PA on grounds of its resistance to the Oslo accords as a whole. But the decease of Arafat in November 2004 and consequent decision to conduct new presidential and parliamentary elections has Hamas willingness to participate in elections revealed. It led to change of attitude by the independence of the elections from the Oslo accords.
The electoral victory of Hamas in January 2006 represented a regime change, not just a change of government, which shocked the currently tensions of Hamas-PA/Fatah relations and entangled the other protagonists of the Oslo accords. Though, Hamas welcomed a unity government with all other Palestinian factions, including Fatah, and latter refused the offer to set Hamas alone to cope with its new responsibilities toward the constituency,by the way Israel and the international community, and effectively expecting its fall. Officially, the PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas could not deny Hamass right to establish and lead the new government. Representing the core of the Palestinian national movement from its inception, Fatah has in fact never acquiesced the rise of power of Hamas. The underlying feud between them could hardly be concealed as both are claiming exclusive authority over the security apparatuses and financial resources. The dispute resulted in a de-facto split of authority, with Hamass establishing its own security force, mostly from its own military ranks.
The takeover of the Gaza Strip by Hamas in June 2007 what the PA/Fatah officials called a “coup”, created a new reality of two separate regimes in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, respectively, thus it’s adding a new factor into the geopolitical reality of territorially separate Palestinian areas. Indeed, the Gaza Strip was disadvantaged according to the West Bank, especially in terms of size, economic resources and development opportunities, population density and social conditions, and political tradition of the Egyptian military rule on the one hand, and the Jordanian annexation and integration of the West Bank into the East Bank, on the other. The total government split of the PA from the Gaza Strip is been severely deepening since June 2007. This might constitute a major obstacle for any future political and economic reunification of these two territories.
Thus it is not entirely clear whether Hamas and Fatah are at all genuinely interested in reconciliation and “national unity” because in fact each of them yearns for survival and the fall of its rival. Regardless of kinship ties and national identity, the main implication of the continuous separation between the West Bank and Gaza Strip is their growing distance and deepening entrenchment of each regime in its own reality.
- Amron Aran, Israel’s Foreign Policy Towards The PLO, The Impact of Globalization, Sussex Academic Press, (Oregon, 2009)
- David Makovsky, Making Peace With The PLO, The Rabin Government’s Road to the Oslo Accord, Westview Press, (Oxford, 1996)
- John Laffin, The PLO Connections, A Gorgi Book, (London, 1982)
- Jonathan Schanzer, Hamas vs. Fatah, The Struggle For Palestine, Palgrave Macmillan, New York, 2008)
- Neil C.Livingstone & David Halevy, Inside The PLO, Qill/William Morrow, (New York, 1990)
- Yıldırım Boran, Geçmişten Günümüze Filistin Direniş Hareketi: El-Fetih ve Hamas, Mep Kitap, (İstanbul, 2006)
- The Middle East Institue, Whither Hamas-Fatah Rivary?, (New Delhi, 2010)
- CRS Report for Congress, Fatah and Hamas: The New Palestinian Factional Reality, (2006)
- Nathan J. Brown, The Hamas-Fatah Conflict: Shallow but Wide, (Summer 2010)
- EastWest Institute, The Fatah – Hamas Rivalry: Palestinian Domestic Competition and the Israeli Withdrawal from Gaza, (2005)
- Phillips Academy Andover Model United Nations, The Hamas/Fatah Conflict, (Conference 2007)
 East-West Institue, The Fatah – Hamas Rivalry: Palestinian Domestic Competition and the Israeli Withdrawal from Gaza, (21 November 2010)
 Nathan J. Brown, The Hamas-Fatah Conflict, p. 45
 What is Hamas?, http://middleeast.about.com/od/palestinepalestinians/f/me080321.htm,
(25 December 2010)
 Jonathan Schanzer, Hamas vs. Fatah, The Struggle for Palestine, p. 156
 Ibid p. 157
 What is Hamas?, http://middleeast.about.com/od/palestinepalestinians/f/me080323.htm,
(18 December 2010)
 The Middle Esat Institue, Whither Hamas and Fatah Rivary?, 10 February 2010, p. 3, (24 December 2010)
 Jonathan Schanzer, Hamas vs. Fatah, The Struggle for Palestine, p. 37
 Nathan J. Brown, The Hamas-Fatah Conflict, p. 76
 Yıldırım Boran, El-Fetih ve Hamas, p.119
 Jonathan Schanzer, Hamas vs. Fatah, The Struggle for Palestine, p. 78