The inter-Palestinian reconciliation soap opera is still ongoing without having achieved any genuine results, and this is to be expected since Hamas is not serious about this process. However what is surprising was the battle between Hamas and Fatah that was played out on the pages of our newspaper yesterday. For while Fatah’s Mr. Azzam al-Ahmed accused the Hamas movement of stalling, Dr. Ismail al-Ashqar – a member of the Hamas delegation who attended the last round of dialogue between Fatah and Hamas in Damascus – said, “we must first prepare the atmosphere [for reconciliation]…and when the atmosphere is ready, we will be ready for what comes next.”
What does that mean?
Hamas’s response simply means that Khalid Meshal’s organization is negotiating with Fatah in the same manner that Israel is negotiating with [Palestinian President] Mahmoud Abbas. We all recall how the Arabs were called on to take trust-building measures with Israel when US President Barack Obama first came to power, and today Hamas has adopted the same method in dealing with Fatah, saying we must prepare the atmosphere!
In my article “Meet…Even in Damascus” [20/10/2010], I called on President Mahmoud Abbas to negotiate with Hamas even in Syria, and I said that I thought that he was wrong to boycott [the negotiations] due to the dispute with the Syrians because Hamas is looking for any excuse [not to reconcile]. This is what we saw today, for when Fatah finally returned to negotiate with the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated movement; Hamas has begun to offer delusional excuses in order to avoid reconciliation.
It is unfortunate – and this is something that every realistic observer knows, including Fatah and its leader Mahmoud Abbas – that Hamas is not serious or interested in reconciliation, and even if it was seriously [about this] it is not in charge of its own decisions. In order to be clear, what is happening today is a battle between the two Palestinian factions to win over Palestinian, and Arab, public opinion. The difference between Fatah and Hamas is that Abbas is genuine and wants reconciliation in order to strengthen the Palestinian position in the battle to establish a Palestinian State; he is therefore fighting on a number of different fronts, the most important of which is the internal Palestinian front, as well as the international front.
Meanwhile, Hamas is only interested in wasting time and embarrassing Abbas as much as possible, relying upon the Israeli manipulation of committing to the peace process in the hope that this will weaken Abbas internally, thereby weakening the Palestinian Authority. Whilst Khalid Meshal and his colleagues are relying heavily upon Netanyahu weakening Abbas, the surprise for Hamas may be that the Palestinian President has transferred the battle to establish a Palestinian state to a different and surprising arena, and this is the international arena, where Abbas is fighting to open the door for the international recognition of a Palestinian State without having to even sit down at the negotiating table with Israel. What some may not have noticed until now is that Hamas has jammed its fingers into this door, and the more strongly that Abbas pushes this door open, the more this harms Meshal and his colleagues.
Therefore, we are not surprised today when we see Hamas using the Israeli approach to negotiating with Fatah; however the lesson for Abbas and his colleagues, including Mr. Al-Ahmed, is that they must negotiate and keep negotiating in order to prevent Hamas taking advantage of the opportunity to win over public opinion. Of course this includes some time-wasting, however our entire region is one that has seen the wasting of time and opportunities for decades!