Petty power struggles and shifting sands: Hamas and Fatah reunite

Will an agreement between Fatah and Hamas lead to peace with Israel? AAP

The idea of Hamas and Fatah burying the hatchet and uniting in their struggle for Palestinian self-determination will generate many reactions amongst their people, their neighbours and those concerned with the region.

There will be feelings of relief, feelings of concern, dreams of freedom and for many, a rather jaded scepticism. If there is one thing that everyone has learnt after more than a century of negotiation and deal-making over Palestine it’s that the devil is always in the detail.

And nowhere is that more frequently demonstrated than amongst the Palestinians themselves. The self-defeating bickering between the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea so aptly portrayed in The Life of Brian still resonates over 30 years later.

At this stage announcements of the pact haven’t been very specific and it remains to be seen what exactly the respective factions will be signing up to when we get round to the photo opportunity of fountain pens, handshakes and smiles.

It will be fascinating to see just how they divvy-up the roles and titles within the planned interim government and define security responsibilities.

The cynics will naturally be waiting for the first stumbling block and whether it makes one side or the other pick up its ball and go home.

In the short term, the continued division along geographic lines is likely, with Hamas responsible for Gaza and Fatah remaining in the West Bank. If this is the case, it is hard to see what exactly will be different from the status quo, except of course for public pledges not to oppose each other.

Sadly inevitable though will be what the next cycle of violence (and there will be one) will mean to the agreement. The hotheads in Hamas and its splinters are unlikely to cease their back shed rocket programs. Even when Hamas is not the perpetrator, they still bear the liability for the acts of violence that originate on their turf. Will this burden now be willingly and collectively borne by the West Bank Palestinians?

The promise of elections to come is welcome and a necessary response to the intractability both sides have shown over the last four years in boycotting each others’ attempts to organise voting. The question remains though whether either Hamas or Fatah would relinquish a share of power if they were defeated at the ballot box.

For the Israelis it will be business as usual.

Understandably, they cannot do business with Hamas, which continues to be involved in a violent campaign against the Jewish state. Legitimisation of Hamas through their return to the fold just means that Israel will have further cause to stymie progress with the Palestinians under the mantra of not negotiating with terrorists.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has repeatedly made this plain. Whether the Palestinians are divided or united, Netanyahu’s shaky coalition has no political capital to gain in dealing with Hamas.

For the impoverished and embattled residents of Gaza the new agreement will hardly herald great changes. Most of them just want a job and the ability to travel to it without waiting for hours at roadblocks.

They want their kids to be able to go off to school in the morning and be fairly certain of getting home safely that afternoon. They want decent civil infrastructure that doesn’t get blasted to bits on a regular basis or never built in the first place because the money has been siphoned off by corrupt toadies of the ancien régime.

In short, whilst they might appreciate the distinctions between the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea, their basic human needs outweigh the petty power struggles and the shifting sand of agreements and allegiances.

These merely serve to propagate the divisions and delay any rapprochement with the one party that can really make a difference to their lives: Israel.