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Senior Hamas official: PLO won’t change, reconciliation ‘nearly impossible’

Mahmoud al-Zahar tells Iranian TV that group’s rivals in Ramallah have ‘tied their fate to Israel,’ bashes security coordination between PA and Jewish state

Hamas deputy Gaza chief Mahmoud al-Zahar scolds the Palestinian Authority for having "tied its fate to the Israeli occupation" in an interview with Iranian Al-Alam TV, October 27, 2020 (Screenshot: YouTube)
Hamas deputy Gaza chief Mahmoud al-Zahar scolds the Palestinian Authority for having "tied its fate to the Israeli occupation" in an interview with Iranian Al-Alam TV, October 27, 2020 (Screenshot: YouTube)

Senior Hamas official Mahmoud al-Zahar expressed sharp skepticism that his group would reconcile with the rival Fatah movement in the near future in an interview Tuesday, in a public break with the friendly rhetoric that has dominated recent statements by both parties.

The firebrand deputy Gaza chief for the Hamas terror group told the Iranian Al-Alam TV that the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Liberation Organization had “tied their fate and their existence to the occupation.”

“If you’re asking whether the PLO will change its orientation, the answer is no. They’ve embarked upon this project, or it came upon them, and they won’t change. They can’t change. If they change, the Israeli occupation will finish them off,” al-Zahar said.

“Can this organization, which is dependent on Israel and external actors for financial support — can this organization do without such support?” al-Zahar asked rhetorically.

Senior officials in both Hamas and Fatah claimed in late September to have made major strides toward bridging the gaps between them. The two main Palestinian political parties have been at odds since a bloody struggle for control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, which led to Hamas expelling Fatah from the coastal enclave.

Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar giving a press conference in 2008 (photo credit: Wissam Nassar/Flash90)
File: Senior Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar giving a press conference in 2008. (Wissam Nassar/Flash90)

Since the infighting, Hamas has ruled Gaza, while Fatah has consolidated its control over Palestinian Authority institutions in the West Bank. Numerous rounds of talks in various Arab capitals have failed to resolve the tension between the two movements.

But negotiations in Istanbul in late September led by Fatah Secretary General Jibril Rajoub ended with a promise of new general Palestinian elections in the next six months. PA President Mahmoud Abbas subsequently repeated the same promise in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly.

Both sides repeatedly lauded what they deemed publicly to be an era of good feeling between the two groups.

“The positive atmosphere of dialogue in Istanbul… resurrects the hope of reaching reconciliation and turning the page on division,” Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said at the time.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh held a relatively rare phone call with PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the time, telling him, “Fatah and Hamas and all Palestinian factions are in the same trench…We are all proud of your trust, and we thank you for it.”

But despite meetings in Beirut and in Cairo aimed at advancing reconciliation, Abbas has yet to order new elections. After initial promises of a quick move to elections and a subsequent unity government, the process has seemingly stalled.

Asked whether the reconciliation talks were a “waste of time,” al-Zahar did not deny it.

“It’s an attempt [by Fatah] to create a spectacle that doesn’t humiliate them. After Trump and normalization, this was a humiliation for those who believed in the Oslo project. So now they’re standing next to us, who have never been thus humiliated,” al-Zahar said, referring to the 1990s peace treaty that created the PA.

The senior Hamas official also harshly criticized the PA’s history of security coordination with Israel. PA security forces have regularly worked to prevent acts of terror against Israelis by turning over the names of those it believes are planning to commit such attacks.

A Palestinian security unit mans a checkpoint at an entrance of in the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 2, 2020. (Nasser Nasser/AP)

Abbas suspended coordination with Israel in protest of a declared Israeli plan to annex parts of the West Bank. While annexation has since been officially suspended due to the normalization accords with the United Arab Emirates, Ramallah has yet to formally announce that coordination has resumed.

Hamas activists have often been arrested due to security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. And so far, none of the public warming of ties between Fatah and the Hamas terror group have changed that reality, al-Zahar claimed.

“Our relationship with Fatah was one of enmity…so how can we fix it? Just with meetings in Beirut, with one senior official talking after another? What about the reality on the ground? Give me something on the ground! Will you allow armed people in the West Bank, or those with rocks, to resist the occupation? When the Fatah security apparatus hears [of potential attackers], will it inform Israel on them or not?” al-Zahar said with evident frustration.

Al-Zahar asserted that the PA was continuing to coordinate secretly with Israel despite its public claims not to.

“There’s a question of our hopes for them versus what’s possible. I certainly hoped they would stop. Can they? In my estimation, no, they cannot,” al-Zahar said. “It would be hard, nearly impossible.”

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