Hamas and Fatah double down on reconciliation, brush off ‘enormous skepticism’

Senior officials insist the rival Palestinian factions are truly unified against Israeli annexation, despite years of bad blood and failed attempts to bridge gaps

Hamas political bureau member Husam Badran and Fatah Central Committee member Ahmad Hilles discuss "common action" amid what they said was an attempt to put aside tensions between the two rival Palestinian factions (Screenshot)
Hamas political bureau member Husam Badran and Fatah Central Committee member Ahmad Hilles discuss "common action" amid what they said was an attempt to put aside tensions between the two rival Palestinian factions (Screenshot)

Two senior officials from Hamas and Fatah on Monday night conducted the second joint press appearance by the two rival Palestinian factions in a week to discuss “methods of common action” against an Israeli plan to annex parts of the West Bank.

“We are sending a message, first and foremost, to the occupation: we are united; even if there are disagreements here and there, they are superficial and normal,” Hamas political bureau member Hussam Badran said in a joint interview with Fatah Central Committee member Ahmad Hilles on Palestine TV.

Badran, formerly Hamas’s West Bank military chief, was convicted by Israel as the mastermind behind several of the Second Intifada’s most brutal terror attacks, including the 2001 Sbarro Pizza bombing in Jerusalem and the Dolphinarium Discotheque in Tel Aviv that killed dozens of Israeli civilians, including children and teenagers. He was freed in 2011 as part of a prisoner exchange between Israel and the Gaza-based terror group.

Hilles said the television appearance had been spurred by both Palestinian movements’ opposition to US President Donald Trump’s controversial peace plan, which paves the way for Israel to annex all of its settlements as well as the strategic Jordan Valley, amounting to 30 percent of the West Bank.

“The occupation has imposed a battle upon us that forces us to act differently,” Hilles said, referring to the planned annexation.

The relationship between Fatah, which controls the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas, and Islamist terror group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip and avowedly seeks to destroy Israel, has been plagued by divisions for more than a decade.

After Hamas won the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, the two movements conducted a bloody struggle for supremacy which resulted in Hamas ejecting Fatah from the Gaza Strip. The two parties have been at odds ever since, with the Palestinian Authority cracking down on Hamas’s West Bank operations.

Last Thursday, however, Fatah Secretary-General Jibril Rajoub and Hamas deputy political bureau chief Saleh al-Arouri held a joint press conference in Ramallah to coordinate “common action” against the planned annexation and to “thwart the Deal of the Century,” a reference to the Trump peace plan.

“All the controversial issues on which we differ, we will set those aside… We and Fatah and all the Palestinian factions are facing an existential threat, and we must work together,” said al-Arouri, who has orchestrated many terror attacks against Israeli civilians and has a $5 million US State Department bounty on his head.

Fatah would not “raise a white flag” in the event that Israel proceeded with its annexation plans, Rajoub said, and “all options” would be on the table.

Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, attends by video conference a meeting with deputy Hamas chief Saleh Arouri (on screen from Beirut) discussing Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank, on July 2, 2020. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

This is far from the first time that the two rival Palestinian factions have made public gestures of reconciliation. Numerous rounds of negotiations have been held to end the fissure in Palestinian politics. Some, such as 2017 Hamas-Fatah talks held in Cairo, even led to agreements. None, however, led to significant changes.

Both Badran and Hilles attempted to allay doubts that the recent warming in ties between the two groups would not similarly flop.

“Our people have an enormous amount of skepticism with regard to the potential for national unity. Previous attempts did not end up having an impact on the ground,” Badran acknowledged.

“Our people have been and continue to be skeptical, and they’re justified in that. Is this time different? We say yes,” Hilles said.

As in the joint press conference last Thursday, both officials avoided spelling out what, if any, concrete steps would be taken in the coming days. In any case, the end of the Hamas-Fatah divide would not materialize immediately, both officials emphasized.

“I’m not saying ‘we’re working on total reconciliation’ but rather ‘we’ve started a rapprochement,’” Hilles said.

Badran said that the trust-building process and a gradual increase in common action on the ground would follow. Any actions taken, he said, would have to be done in the context of a national consensus.

“Even with regard to military resistance, of which Gaza has borne the majority until now, all options should be under discussion within the context of a common national decision, as well as diplomatic and political action,” Badran said.

More Hamas-Fatah communication took place at the local level on Monday, as Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh spoke to Hebron governor Jabarin al-Bakri about the coronavirus situation in the governorate, according to Hamas-linked al-Resalah TV channel. Hebron has been by far the hardest-hit area of the West Bank by the novel coronavirus, registering over 80% of cases.

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