Following three days of talks in Russia, senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad said Tuesday evening that the party would call on Abbas to launch a reconciliation process within 48 hours.
The agreement reached in Moscow has two components: holding a unifying Palestinian National Council that includes Hamas and other groups in the PLO, and forming a Palestinian unity government including all parties with representation in parliament.
“The new government would be responsible for reunification between the West Bank and Gaza, and preparing the grounds, hopefully within six months, to conduct elections,” says Palestinian politician Mustafa Barghouti, who took part in the talks as leader of independent party the Palestinian National Initiative.
Even at this early stage, observers had no doubt of the significance of what is being proposed.
“If groups like Hamas are formally included in the PLO and have representation in the Palestine National Council, that would be a major development in internal Palestinian affairs, probably the most significant in decades,” says Khaled Elgindy, a fellow in the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institute and former advisor on peace negotiations.
The secular Fatah and Islamist Hamas have been at odds since Hamas took power in Gaza after a near civil war in 2007, and previous reconciliations have fallen apart.
“We’ve had many efforts at Fatah and Hamas reconciliation, and sometimes they have even got to the point of substance and even setting up a unity government,” says Galia Golan, emeritus professor of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. “None of them has actually succeeded, and I simply want to wait and see how they proceed.”
Mustafa Barghouti admits coming to a deal is one thing, while implementing it is another.
“One challenge is to overcome the factionalism that has unfortunately prevailed in the Palestinian community, and to hold the national interest above party interests,” he says.
“Secondly, there are some countries around us that would not like us to be unified, especially Israel, so we can be certain of external interventions and pressures, as has happened before, to try to prevent this agreement from being implemented.”
Timing is no coincidence
The declaration comes weeks after the UN Security Council passed a resolution against Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and the Palestinians are wondering what the incoming Trump administration in the US means for their situation.
“The UN Security Council resolution is itself a function of the end of the Obama administration and the coming Trump administration, and I certainly believe the prospect of a change in Washington is part of the thinking that went into this intra-Palestinian agreement,” Elgindy says.
“The Palestinian leadership is looking for ways to shore up its domestic legitimacy and trying to insulate itself from what it sees as quite likely a hostile administration in Washington that is coming in.”
If the deal is implemented, it is unlikely to win the Palestinians any favours in Israel.
“If they really do set up a unity government, it would be good from the Palestinian point of view, but it would provide yet another excuse for [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu to not go to negotiations,” says Golan.
“The position of Israel and traditionally apparently of the Quartet, including the United States, is that they won’t talk to Hamas until and unless Hamas recognises Israel and renounces the use of terror, and those are the conditions that Hamas is least likely to agree to. But of course I don’t see any negotiations developing right now anyway.”