A 'new phase' of strategic cooperation, 'popular resistance'

Abbas’s Fatah party, terror group Hamas unite to ‘topple’ Trump deal, annexation

‘We want to speak in a single voice,’ says Fatah’s Jibril Rajoub at joint event with Hamas’s Saleh al-Arouri, who has $5m US bounty on his head. Arouri vows ‘all forms of struggle’

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) vowing joint resistance to Israel's plan to annex parts of the West Bank, on July 2, 2020. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)
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) vowing joint resistance to Israel's plan to annex parts of the West Bank, on July 2, 2020. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

In a rare show of cooperation, Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas pledged unity against Israel’s West Bank annexation plans and vowed to “topple” the Trump administration’s peace proposal, at a joint press conference Thursday.

The joint appearance was spurred by common 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.

“We are announcing today an agreement to topple the ‘Deal of the Century’… there will be popular resistance in which everyone participates,” senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub said in Ramallah at the press conference, also addressed by Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri by video-link from Beirut. “We will put in place all necessary measures to ensure national unity” in efforts against annexation… Today, we want to speak in a single voice.”

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. Rajoub stressed that “the decision [to work together] has been approved by our president.”

Arouri, who directs the West Bank division of the Gaza-based terror group, affirmed at the conference that the two groups would set aside their differences in an effort to unite their efforts against annexation. “We must stand together, again and again, loyally and truthfully, amidst the ranks of our people, to resist and thwart this project,” Arouri said.

Arouri has directed numerous terrorist attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians, including the 2014 murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. In 2018, the US State Department issued a $5 million bounty for his capture.

“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 Arouri.

Arouri said that coordination between the two organizations would begin “a new phase that will be a strategic service to our people.”

Hamas would “use all forms of struggle and resistance against the annexation project,” he said.

“Each member of our people is a soldier in this work…each in his own way, whether a journalist, a politician, a diplomat, or an infantryman,” Arouri said.

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

In a veiled threat, Rajoub said that all options were on the table if Israel proceeded with its annexation plans.

“We will not raise a white flag, we will not give up. All the options are open if the Israelis start the annexation and slam the door on the two-state solution,” Rajoub said.

He said that the form that “popular resistance” took would depend on the actions of Israel and whether or not it implemented its plan. “Intifada for us is a means, the end is to end the occupation, to end and remove the annexation from the table,” Rajoub said.

“The development of such mechanisms is dependent on the behavior of the occupation. We will embark upon mass mobilization, conscripting all of the factions for a two-state solution,” Rajoub said. 

Arouri said that he opposes any concessions on annexation, and drew historic parallels between the present and Fatah’s late leader, Yasser Arafat. “We must recall that the national Palestinian consensus does not accept any retreat on this issue. Yasser Arafat rejected land swaps when the amount was extremely small — despite that, he refused to give up any land in the West Bank and Jerusalem. When he returned, the Palestinian people supported him and began a great Intifada,” Arouri said.

Both Arouri and Rajoub acknowledged that there were serious issues that still divided their two factions, but said their organizations were ready to set them aside for the time being in order to confront the threat of annexation.

Arouri said that Hamas would always need some kind of reconciliation with Fatah, and that neither faction alone could confront Israel.

“Even if we fail three or four times, because we don’t have another choice; we cannot replace Fatah, nor can Fatah replace Hamas. Nor can Hamas become isolated from the rest of the Palestinian people,” Arouri said.

The two leaders downplayed gaps between their two groups, with Rajoub praising the Hamas political bureau as “brothers.”

“We belong to different organizations, but we share blood and a common destiny… The time is now for us to move as one man in the most dangerous phase the Palestinian people have witnessed,” Rajoub said.

Arouri, for his part, said that Palestinian Authority President Abbas had shown a “resolute and patriotic opposition to any concessions Israel and its American patron have attempted to impose on them.”

Rajoub went as far as to say that those who insisted on bringing up old political rifts were “traitors” and collaborators with the occupation.

“I believe that we are in harmony one hundred percent today, and tomorrow, and that is going to have consequences,” Rajoub said.

Arouri also said that the two groups shared a long “path of struggle” together, from the First Intifada through the Second Intifada and the 2004 Israeli disengagement from Gaza.

“I always say to my comrades: our martyrs are in the same graves, and our prisoners are in the same prisons… Fatah never differed with us on confronting the occupation and resisting its plans, even when we had disagreements,” Arouri said. 

Asked skeptically whether the coming days would see concrete steps toward reconciliation rather than merely closing the gap in messaging, Rajoub dismissed “that kind of talk.”

“There is trust between the two leaderships going forward. There is no other choice besides unity and confronting the fascist occupation,” Rajoub said.

Hamas last month urged unity among Palestinians and “resistance” against Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

“We call for the annexation project to be confronted with resistance in all forms,” said senior Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil.

Arouri told Hamas-linked al-Resalah TV channel that “mass actions” are being planned “in all regions” in protest against Israel’s planned annexation of the West Bank.

Hamas is willing to work with any group to coordinate anti-annexation efforts, he said, including the Palestinian Authority.

“The PA should remove any fears that we will take their place in the West Bank. We only want to extend an outstretched hand to join in resisting the occupier,” Arouri said.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement Thursday that the press conference between the two factions constituted “the inauguration of a new stage of joint action.”

Last month, the two rival Palestinian factions observed the 13th anniversary of their schism, which formally began when Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007 in a near civil war. The takeover dissolved the Hamas-Fatah unity government, and subsequent attempts to reconcile the two have borne little fruit.

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh speaks during a protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on April 19, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

In a surprising move, MK Ayman Odeh of Israel’s opposition Joint List party, also attended Thursday’s conference. Both Arouri and Rajoub welcomed him as a “brother” in their statements and expressed their support for Palestinians living inside Israel.

“I’m taking part in the conference in Ramallah to support Palestinian reconciliation moves. Reconciliation between the factions is a necessary step in combating annexation, ending the occupation and achieving a just peace,” Odeh said in a statement.

The ruling right-wing Likud party issued a statement condemning Odeh’s attendance.

“This is a new low for Ayman Odeh, who participated today in a conference with Hamas members who have called for the murder of Israelis,” Likud said.

Annexation delays

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition government had set July 1 as the date it could begin implementing Trump’s annexation proposals.

But on Wednesday, Netanyahu’s office said he would continue to discuss the possible annexation of parts of the West Bank with the US administration.

At the same time, Netanyahu convened top Israeli security brass, including National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, on Wednesday to discuss the issue, the statement said. “In the coming days there will be additional discussions,” the Prime Minister’s Office added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wears a face mask against COVID-19, bearing the US and Israeli flags, during a press conference with US special representative for Iran (not seen) at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 30, 2020. (Abir Sultan/POOL/AFP)

The statement came amid uncertainty over whether Israel will ultimately follow through on the annexation initiative, which has drawn fierce condemnations from some of Israel’s closest allies.

The US plan, unveiled in January, calls for any annexations to come as part of a larger peace package, including negotiations on the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state across the roughly 70% of the West Bank that won’t be annexed by Israel, with a link to Gaza — a prospect that is untenable to many on the Israeli right.

The Trump plan also calls for talks with the Palestinians and buy-in from Gulf Arab states that would theoretically be tasked with providing massive funds for a nascent Palestinian state’s economy.

The US aside, the international community has voiced near-unanimous opposition against unilateral moves by Israel. Netanyahu held off on making an annexation announcement on Wednesday.

Beyond international opposition, Netanyahu has encountered resistance from his governing partners in the Blue and White party. Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the party’s leader, this week said the July 1 target date was not “sacred” and suggested that annexation could wait while the government grapples with Israel’s coronavirus crisis.

On Tuesday, Gantz said the Trump plan needs to be advanced “correctly, in bringing as many partners to this discussion from the countries of the region, with international backing.” He added: [We must] make every effort to connect with them and only then continue. And I think all means to bring in the players have not yet been exhausted.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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