Recent meetings between representatives of Fatah and Hamas have experienced major coverage in the Israeli media. They include great concern in case they offer Hamas with political and security cover in the occupied West Bank enabling it to resume resistance operations against Israel if the Palestinian Authority stops its own persecution of the movement.
The most recent on the web meeting was between Jibril Rajoub, Secretary General of Fatah’s Central Committee and the former head of the Preventive Security Force, and Saleh Al-Arouri, the Deputy Head of the Hamas Political Bureau, whom Israel describes as the “orchestrator of the armed attacks in the West Bank.” Israelis think that the meeting gives Hamas the green light to work in the West Bank, even though Mahmoud Abbas will not want the return of armed resistance. The Rajoub-Al-Arouri meeting was followed by still another between Ahmed Helles, the Fatah official responsible for the Gaza file, and Husam Badran, the top of national relations for Hamas. Israel fears that may signal an end to the relatively calm situation on the ground.
Over the past decade we have witnessed many meetings between Fatah and Hamas, and many hugs, smiles and handshakes. On virtually every occasion — too numerous to count — we heard from Gaza, Cairo, Beirut, Doha and Moscow, as well as secret locations, that the new leaf was being turned in their mutual relations. However, what most of these announcements have commonly is that nothing arrived on the scene of them. Can we are expectant of anything different this time?
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The Israelis noted two new things about the recent meetings: neither Rajoub nor Al-Arouri made any public statements about ending the division, forming a unity government or holding new elections; and the party which encouraged the veteran leaders to talk to each other was Israel. From the Israeli point of view, the PA had a clear purpose in the post-meeting press conference, and it was maybe not reconciliation with Hamas. It only wished to anger Israel after stopping its security coordination. However, giving Hamas the green light to work in the West Bank is the alternative in the anti-annexation campaign. Of course, they failed to call it that, but that was in conclusion when we heard phrases such as for example “a common struggle in the field”. Rajoub declared, “We have no enemy but Israel” and Al-Arouri seemed pleased with the opportunity and called for a joint struggle in the West Bank.
Despite all this, the Israelis are confident that Abbas will adhere to his policy of opposing armed struggle. I presume that he will not really want to start to see the green flags of Hamas appearing on every corner in the occupied Palestinian territory. However, when Rajoub spoke of Hamas with regards to a joint fight against Israel’s annexation plan, with the person responsible for establishing the military infrastructure of Hamas in West Bank sitting in the virtual chair close to him, that he runs the chance of riding the tiger. This move by Fatah and Hamas may have immediate consequences on the latter’s motives to carry out armed attacks in the occupied territory.
Discussion groups in Israel, meanwhile, insist that the Rajoub-Al-Arouri meeting signals a partnership between Fatah and Hamas. Such cooperation distresses Israelis because, regardless of how limited it might be, it remains a significant development in terms of their country is concerned. The speed with which agreement between the 2 movements was achieved has surprised Israel’s security services, although they might not have been blind to the possibility the moment Benjamin Netanyahu announced his annexation plan.
The Israelis do not pay much focus on what is said in Palestinian press conferences held jointly by Fatah and Hamas, because the most important thing is what exactly is happening on the floor. This depends upon the PA announcing that it will not arrest Hamas members and will grant them permission to work in the West Bank.
When discussing these Fatah-Hamas meetings, the Israelis provide some back ground information about those taking part. Rajoub, for example, is amongst the main contenders to succeed Abbas, and has allied himself with the former head of intelligence, Tawfik Tirawi, and Yasser Arafat’s nephew, Nasser Al-Qudwa. He even reconciled to some degree recently along with his old rival Mohammed Dahlan, who was deported from occupied Palestine and lives in exile in Abu Dhabi and Serbia, and still tries to purchase friends and influence within Fatah’s ranks.
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According to these Israeli discussion groups, Rajoub isn’t Abbas’s choice for his successor nor that of the PA. However, the PA leader chose Rajoub to coordinate protests against Israel’s annexation plans, and Rajoub can also be promoting himself as the only man in Fatah in a position to reach a knowledge with Hamas. Rajoub’s brother, Sheikh Nayef Rajoub, in addition, is a senior Hamas executive official in the West Bank.
Al-Arouri is a sharp and sophisticated man, who had been quick to comprehend the benefits of a gathering with Rajoub. He has become convinced that Hamas should be able to organise large demonstrations in the West Bank, something Fatah has been struggling to do. Hamas activists will soon be immune from arrest by the Palestinian security forces and can regroup, at the very least in political circles.
The Israeli reading of this is that the Fatah and Hamas meetings may produce a positive situation in the Palestinian arena, with clashes between the movements’ leaders replaced by coordination and mutual guarantees. That could be the last thing that Israel wants.
The views expressed in this specific article belong to mcdougal and usually do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.