This week’s announcement of a unity deal between Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas, the Islamist group in charge of the Gaza Strip, was warmly welcomed by Palestinians. But it may well have sunk an already floundering peace processes.
The two parties committed to forming a “national consensus” government headed by current Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas within weeks. Both Palestinian factions seemed happy about the decision — if successful, the deal will be "a genuine partnership that will take our people out of a dark tunnel," says Hamas advisor Youssef Rizqa on the group’s Filastin Online website. Meanwhile, commentators in the pro-Fatah Al-Ayyam paper noted that it would invalidate Israeli arguments about the Palestinian Authority not representing all Palestinian people.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was distinctly un-amused, saying Fatah leader and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had "made a pact with a murderous terror organization.” Hamas is considered a terrorist group by much of the West, including the U.S. and the European Union, as well as other countries, including Egypt. Its charter calls for the dissolution of Israel.
“[This] raises concerns about our efforts to extend the negotiations.”
Earlier this afternoon, Netanyahu’s cabinet convened an emergency meeting to discuss the Palestinian agreement, then decided to punish Fatah by announcing that all peace negotiations with the Palestinian Authority would be suspended. It added that economic sanctions would also be introduced and threatened unspecified “measures.”
The U.S., which is brokering the peace talks, gently condemned the decision too. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. was “troubled” by the announcement and that it “raises concerns about our efforts to extend the negotiations.”
It is possible that the move could be to extract concessions from the U.S. and Israel. A Palestinian official told AFP that Palestinians would consider “all options” in deciding how to respond, adding that unity for Palestine is the priority.
Talks, which had been led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, had already ground to a halt after both sides had taken what the U.S. passive-aggressively described as "unhelpful steps" earlier in the month, and authorities have been desperately trying to extend them beyond the original April 29 deadline.
Hamas gained control of Gaza after a serious of violent clashes in 2007, then set up its own government. However, it has since had huffy fallouts with Egypt, Syria, and Iran in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, and may now be feeling vulnerable.