Is the Fatah-Hamas deal a disaster?

By Anshel Pfeffer, May 5, 2011
Palestinians celebrate the reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza City this week

Palestinians celebrate the reconciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas in Gaza City this week

"From my perspective, the Hamas-Fatah deal is fiction," said the IDF officer, looking out from a hilltop over the northern West Bank city of Jenin on Wednesday morning. "None of the Palestinian local representatives or security officers I have spoken to over the past week have said that it changes anything for them."

On the same day, Hamas leaders and President Mahmoud Abbas signed the agreement in Cairo, but the consensus among IDF officers serving in the West Bank and liaising daily with their Palestinian counterparts was that it was no more than window-dressing.

"Naturally, we are keeping our eyes open for any change in security co-ordination," said one of the regional brigade commanders. "But as far as I can tell, it is business as usual for the Palestinian Authority's security forces. Their priority up to now has been to prevent Hamas from gaining a toe-hold in the West Bank, and they have made it clear to us that nothing for them has changed."

The Palestinian police's reaction to the planned "Day of Rage" on May 15 will act as a crucial barometer for their real intentions but, so far, all indications in the field are that the agreement is no more than a PR exercise for Palestinian politicians.

This has so far been a huge relief for the IDF and Shin Bet, since much of the war on Hamas terror in the West Bank over the past three years is based on co-operation with the Fatah-dominated Palestinian security forces.

The response to the unity agreement is out of proportion

"As Ehud Barak once said about the Oslo Accords," said one veteran intelligence officer with a smile, "the agreement has as many holes as a Swiss cheese.

"There are so many pitfalls on the road ahead that they did not address that no-one can see how it will actually be implemented."

The muted response from the security establishment came in stark contrast to the response of the government, which has threatened to withhold all funds from the Palestinian Authority and said that Israel cannot negotiate with a Palestinian government that is part-Hamas, a movement that does not recognise Israel's existence.

That was the main message Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had for David Cameron and Nicolas Sarkozy in his visits to London and Paris this week.

Although he refused to specifically mention the government's response, outgoing Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin said this week that "the response to the unity agreement is out of proportion".

Mr Diskin said that the agreement was only "tactical" - to improve Hamas's relations with the new Egyptian government and to help Mr Abbas present a picture of Palestinian unity to the UN.

He added: "I don't see real reconciliation happening on the ground in the next few years. For that you need joint security structures and representation for Hamas in the West Bank and for Fatah in Gaza.

"That looks very unlikely at the moment. Fatah will not let Hamas into the West Bank and Hamas will not allow Fatah into Gaza."

Last updated: 11:10am, May 5 2011