United front?

The coming together of Hamas and Fatah to form an interim unity government ahead of elections could provide a boost to the Palestinian national movement.

The long-running feud between the two erupted in severe armed clashes in 2007, culminating in Fatah retaining control over parts of the West Bank and Hamas setting up its own government in the Gaza Strip.

They have attempted reconciliation several times in the past, even signing agreements twice.

But these deals collapsed. Not surprisingly then, the latest pact has evoked scepticism among the Palestinian people as they fear that self-interest rather than commitment to the Palestinian cause underlies the unity agreement.

With the Egyptian government cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas has lost an important ally there.

It lost a key base in Damascus as well. Is it to strengthen itself that Hamas agreed to join hands with Fatah?

Long term survival of the unity deal will depend crucially on whether the two are able to reconcile their perceptions of Israel and how they take their cause forward.

Israel and the US have responded negatively to the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation.

Clearly, they are rattled by the coming together of the two main forces among the Palestinians.

After all, dealing with a divided Palestinian movement was easier; Israel could strike deals with Fatah and ram ‘solutions’ down its throat, passing these off as agreements with the Palestinians.

However, none of these so-called agreements enjoyed legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinian people as it excluded Hamas.

With Hamas and Fatah joining hands now, Israel and the US are in a dilemma. Their divide and rule policy could unravel.

The Israeli government has called off on-going US-brokered negotiations with Fatah, arguing that it will not negotiate with a party that includes the ‘terrorist’ Hamas as a partner.

It is likely that US will step up pressure on Fatah to snap ties with Hamas. Fatah could see western funding it receives drying up.

But it must stand firm.

A historic opportunity has opened up for the Palestinians to put up a united front.

The coming weeks will be challenging as Fatah and Hamas work on bridging the enormous gap in their positions, methods and goals.

Will Fatah move towards extremism or Hamas moderate its methods?

Or will this deal collapse too, handing yet another victory to Israel?

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