HAMAS and FATAH: Recent Events

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Hamas and Fatah: A Rocky Relationship


In Palestinian politics there are two main parties: Fatah and Hamas. When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah officially called the 2006 legislative elections, he included both parties. To the surprise of much of the world, Hamas dominated these elections, gaining over 56 percent of the parliamentary seats to Fatah’s 34 percent.

In the wake of the election, violence and political struggle dominated life and politics in Palestine. Fatah and Hamas have gone through repeated cycles of violent clashes and peaceful truces while attempting to govern the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. During the first year of their joint appointment, Fatah and Hamas were unable to form a government. Finally with Saudi mediation, a unity government was formed in February, 2007; however, violence continued, especially in the Gaza Strip. Then in June 2007, after an unusually vicious round of fighting, Hamas took complete control of Gaza. Since September 2007, the Palestinian polity has been split, with Fatah ruling the West Bank and Hamas ruling the Gaza Strip.

Fatah is a moderate Palestinian Party which supports a two state compromise with Israel. Hamas is a more religiously focused party which does not support the state of Israel and has historically supported violence and terrorist acts. For more information of the distinct entities of Fatah and Hamas, please see their individual pages.

Lead Up to the 2006 Legislative Elections

After becoming president of the Palestinian Legislative Authority, Mahmoud Abbas announced legislative elections, the first in a decade in the Palestinian territories. Outside players, especially Israel, were uneasy with Abbas’ inclusion of Hamas in the elections. In fact, due to Hamas' participation, Israel at first was not going to allow East Jerusalem residents to vote. Palestinians and outsiders alike, however, believed that Fatah would easily win more seats than Hamas and stay in control of the government. Supporting that belief, in early poling, The Palestinian News Agency WAFA reported on November 20, 2005 that, “39.5 percent [of Palestinians] will vote for Fatah block . . . while 19.9 percent will vote for the Hamas block.”

With hindsight it is apparent that signs of Hamas’ strength and Fatah's weaknesses were beginning to show before the election. For instance, Hamas won student elections at the largest University in the West Bank, while young members of Fatah briefly broke away from the party, rejecting the corruption of the old guard. Leading up to the elections, the two parties choose very different types of people to list on the ballots. Fatah choose to run many career politicians, who were already known to the Palestinian people as slick (and, in many cases, corrupt), although Fatah also chose to put the popular "young guard" leader Marwan Barghouti on its ticket (see the entry on Barghouti for more information). Hamas, on the other hand, chose “many university teachers, physicians, pharmacists, lawyers, journalists and accountants as its representatives – a move that [was] welcomed by many Palestinians,” according The Jerusalem Post on December 9, 2005.

Furthermore, Fatah was forced at every turn to answer questions about its corruption and its failure to bring lasting peace with Israel, while as the Economist pointed out on Jan 21, 2006 “What ma[de] Hamas’s appeal so great [was] that it d[id] not just rest on its past performance – social programmes, leading the intifada’s violence against Israel, and a reputation for honesty – but on a canny, forward looking campaign . . . It stresse[d] domestic issues: education, welfare, law and order.” Hamas also seemed to keep quietly in the background (both before and after the election) the fact that its charter calls for Israel’s destruction, so as not to scare-off more moderate Palestinian voters who were attracted to their slate of candidates, honesty and commitment to social programs.

2006 Legislative Elections and Immediate Aftermath

The Palestinian Legislative elections were held on January 25, 2006. The vote was judged legitimate by independent observers such as the National Democratic Institute (http://www.accessdemocracy.org/library/2068_ps_elect_012506.pdf).

Hamas won 44 % of the popular vote and 74 seats, and Fatah won 42% of the popular vote and 45 seats. The Western World, the Middle Eastern Countries, Israel and Fatah both were shocked at Hamas’ win, and its strength within Palestine. However, all of the factors discussed in the previous section contributed to Hamas’ win, including but not limited to Fatah’s past corruption, Hamas’ pick of intellectuals and other non-politicians for their running slate, and Hamas’ commitment to social programs, its fight against Israel, and its reputation for honesty.

After the elections, Ismail Haniya of Hamas formed a new government, putting Hamas members in key cabinet positions. In the wake of the election, Israel, the United States, and the European Union suspended all foreign aid to Palestine. Hamas was in power, though not backed by Fatah and devoid of any of the aid money that Palestine traditionally depended upon.

Spring-Summer 2006

The spring and summer of 2006 brought futile cycles of violent clashes and truces between Hamas and Fatah, and while Hamas continually called for the formation of a unity government, the two parties were unable to form one. After an unusually tense period, Fatah and Hamas did come together to announce a surprising security plan, which a Fatah spokesman described by saying that "anyone who carries arms will be considered outside the law." However, only a few days after this dictate, renewed violence led to both Hamas and Fatah deploying troops to the Gaza Strip, renewing the vicious cycles of violence.

Also in the spring, in a major political move, Abbas announced that he would hold a referendum on the recognition of Israel based on the borders of 1967, unless Hamas agreed to these borders independently. However, the referendum was postponed indefinitely due to Israeli military action against Gaza, according to the Palestinian News Agency on July 15th, 2006. August ended on an optimistic note when Abbas and Haniya agreed to talk again about forming a unity government.

The End of 2006

In Palestine, September began with a civil servant strike in Gaza City and two other Gazan towns. The public workers were striking for their salaries, which the Hamas government had been unable to pay without tax revenues or aid money. With garbage piling up on the streets, it was no surprise that a poll (conducted by Opinion Polls and Survey Studies Cente at Al-Najah University in the West Bank and reported by Agence Press on September 11, 2006) revealed that 84.9 percent of Palestinians supported the formation of a unity government. The basis of such a government would be Hamas' tacit consent to Israel's presence; however, Mahmoud Zahar made clear that, Hamas would "not participate in any government that would recognize Israel", the Chicago Tribune quoted on September 23rd.

Violence between the factions escalated in October and November. Prime Minister Haniya responded to the crisis of violence and poverty by announcing that he would step down as Prime Minister if foreign governments would resume their aid to Palestine. A frustrated President Abbas announced that he would call a new election if a unity government were not formed promptly.

A Meccan Meeting, A Unity Government

2007 began with more violent clashes between Fatah and Hamas. Politically, both sides continued to be frustrated with the lack of lasting peace in Palestine, and the groups continued to blame each other. Agence France Presse reported on January 9th that "A spokesman for president Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah party slammed what he called 'a bloody current within Hamas' that was sabotaging efforts to form a government of national unity.'" However, the repeated breakdowns of ceasefires suggested the political wings of both Fatah and Hamas were unable to control their more radical elements.

With continued violence and internal strife in Palestine, outside Arab powers showed their concern by bringing Fatah and Hamas together. The Egyptians mediated yet another truce, while Saudi Arabia used its power and prestige in the region to bring the two groups together for serious talks on forming a united government. The Saudi talks were at last successful, and after over a year of infighting, Hamas and Fatah reached an agreement on a unified government.

The New Straights Times in Malaysia (on February 11, 2007) described the excitement of the Palestinians, "Guns that had been trained on each other only days before were fired in the air as jubilation took over the streets of Gaza at the news on Thursday that a deal had been struck in Mecca . . . After two months of fraternal feuding which left more than 90 dead, ordinary Palestinians were sick and tired, as if the withdrawal of international aid on top of the Israeli occupation and embargo were not bad enough." The rest of the world reacted to the news more cautiously, curious as to how the political deal would affect the situation on the ground.

While the news of the new government seemed to quell most violence for a few weeks, clashes soon began again, setting a violent backdrop for the governmental transition. On March 17th, the unity government was approved in parliament and officially took its place. The new government, despite its two-sided representation, was still unable to squelch the violence. May ended with a fleeting ceasefire, put into place after 50 people died in clashes in just one day.

A Divided Palestine (June 2007 - September 2007)

In June, violence between Fatah and Hamas escalated dramatically, especially in Gaza. After Hamas took over several major security posts, Abbas declared a state of emergency and dissolved the unity government. The next day he appointed Salam Fayyad to the position of Prime Minister and head of an emergency government, a government that included no Hamas members. Haniya responded that there was no need to dismiss the government and that nothing unusual was happening in Gaza. He said "The Hamas presence in the government is the decision of the Palestinian people [and] unilateral decisions, made without the cooperation or coordination, do not suit the current situation. Therefore, the present Government will continue operating and will not give up its position and responsibility towards the Palestinian people," according to the Weekend Australian on June 16th, 2007. Despite Haniya's claims of normalcy, The Gaza Strip was inundated with looting and violence and it soon was clear that Hamas forces had actually pushed Fatah forces out of Gaza. And while Hamas promptly called for talks between the now estranged parties, Fatah dismissed the suggestion.

With Hamas in control of one piece of Palestine and Fatah in control of another, foreign governments were able to now deal with Fatah alone. Israel handed frozen tax revenues, nearly $50 million, to Abbas, and resumed peace talks with Fatah. The West resumed giving aid money to Fatah, now separated from a 'terrorist' organization. At the same time, support and international trade remained elusive to the citizens of the Gaza Strip. Hamas tried to get the attention of western players by brokering the release of Alan Johnston, a foreign journalist, but while his successful release was lauded, western players were no more interested in supporting Hamas than they were before.

Despite each having areas that they control, both Fatah and Hamas wanted and still want to reunite Palestine. With this thinking, on July 7, 2007 Menas News Agency of Cairo reported that Fatah had "set its conditions to restart dialog with Hamas. The conditions include Hamas's handing over ministries, institutions and documents to the legitimate Palestinian government and returning matters to pre-coup conditions in the Gaza Strip." At the same time, Hamas announced its desire for talks with Fatah. Despite the two parties outwardly declaring their desire for talks, no dialogue took place.

As July preceded, violence seemed to diminish, but tensions remained high and Israel entered more directly into the inter-Palestinian conflict. Israel offered clemency to 178 Fatah militiamen, if they were to turn in their weapons and "join the regular Palestinian security forces and turn full attention to disarming the rival Hamas movement," reported the Los Angeles Times on July 16th, 2007. Israel also released 225 prisoners, mostly members of Fatah, to support the government of Abbas. Israel has great reason to support Fatah over Hamas, whose charter calls for its destruction. As Fatah and the West Bank gain more help and support from the international community, the disparities between it and the Gaza Strip quickly became even more apparent. Gazans faced huge obstacles without aid money or international trade available to them, and the consequence of the "Gaza Blockade" were many and far-reaching. Please see the "Gaza Blockade" article for more information.


It has been a truly spectacular year in the Middle East. Many text books were made wholly irrelevant in the span of just months. One of the greatest changes has been the reunification of Fatah and Hamas. In 2006, the Islamic movement Hamas won the general elections in Palestine. This was an unforeseen development, even by Hamas, who had assumed they would win some seats, but not a majority. Fatah and Hamas almost immediately began to butt heads. With winning a majority of seats, Hamas also won control of the armed forces. However, Fatah did not trust Hamas and refused to share control. Relations quickly deteriorated. Hamas maintained its own armed forces in the West Bank, and in 2007, after a quick battle, Hamas forced Fatah from the Gaza Strip. For the next four years, the two groups carried out their own foreign policies, as if being totally independent of each other. Hamas and Fatah did continue to talk to each other, though. When, in 2009, a peace deal seemed less of a fantasy, Hamas even stated it would support Fatah's actions. However, Fatah and Hamas continued to arrest members of each other's parties.

In early 2011, it was announced that both sides had achieved a reconciliation deal. The deal will bring Hamas into the government, and set up elections in the near future. Both sides have agreed that the current representatives would be technocrats, or pragmatic politicians with little ideological bent. This was a necessary move as it assured stability of government until the elections took place. Currently, the two groups remain separate, though there is a stronger connection between the two. Until the elections are held, both will independently administer their respective areas. On foreign policy, they have been seen to work much more closely. Hamas had a propensity to fire rockets into Israel whenever Fatah went to talks. This was an effort to reassert the necessity of including Hamas in any peace talks while de-legitimizing Fatah's position. However, Hamas has abandoned this tactic. One should not make too much of this, since there have been no substantive talks. However, it does appear that the two are aligning their foreign policy goals much more closely. Hamas also has a current interest in the success of Palestine's statehood bid at the U.N.. Should this bid be successful, Hamas will stand to be the first political party that could potentially win control of the new country of Palestine, through elections. Thus, it has done all that it can for the legitimacy to Mahmoud Abbas's declaration.

It is pertinent to note that the talks, which led to the reconciliation, were facilitated by Egypt. Both Fatah and Hamas felt the current atmosphere necessitated the holding of talks secretly in Egypt. There are many reasons for this, the most important of which is the criticism for this initiative from the U.S. and Israel. Indeed, in response to the announcement of reconciliation, numerous Israeli politicians condemned the act. Benjamin Netanyahu even stated that Mahmoud Abbas had to choose between peace with Hamas and peace with Israel. However, both Palestinian factions have remained firm. In Fall 2011, Israel announced its willingness to negotiate. Regardless of how serious the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas is, the Palestinian bid for statehood at the U.N trumps all other concerns. The U.S. and Israel need to get negotiations started again, in an effort to stall the statehood proceedings. Hamas's re-incorporation into the Palestinian government suddenly becomes less of a threat. Whether or not they are part of the Palestinian government becomes of secondary concern to the U.S. and Israel. Of primary concern is derailing the Palestinian statehood bid.

Impact on the Simulation

The main impact on the simulation will be in Palestinian policy. Whereas, in past years, one could expect to see Hamas and Fatah moving in vastly different directions, one can expect this year to see more or less tandem movement in the same direction. This is made easier by both wanting to see the U.N. statehood bid succeed. However, it is also an effort by both to demonstrate to the world that a unified Palestinian state is possible. This means that communication between Fatah and Hamas is of the utmost importance. While they might disagree on key points, these disagreements must be respectful and remain low-key. Hamas and Fatah are attempting to demonstrate to the world that a unified Palestine is not only possible, but practical. This demonstration is coming mere months before a vote that will either see Palestine recognized as a nation, or not. Both sides have a vested interest in presenting as unified a Palestine as is possible, showing themselves to be both pragmatic and responsible. The success of the Palestinian statehood bid rests on the capability of Fatah and Hamas to present a reasonable ability to cooperate to the world.

One should expect much greater communications between Fatah and Hamas. While it is likely that they will disagree on some points, the two groups must demonstrate that these differences can be resolved in a civil manner. It appears that Fatah has been given the lead to pursue talks at the U.N. This is an intelligent decision because of Mahmoud Abbas's experience and political weight at the U.N. This does not, however, mean that one should expect Hamas will be silent. They will continue voicing their opinions and beliefs. Still, for Hamas, it is crucial that they are not seen to get in the way of the Palestinian statehood bid. To be seen as the reason why the Palestinians did not succeed in the General Assembly would be a monumental blow to Hamas' support and stature.

Selected Resources On most websites, you will not be able to access for free the articles used herein; however, please use these websites to stay up to date on current developments, or ask a librarian how to obtain older articles.

MENA News Agency Cairo http://www.mena.org.eg/index.aspx

Palestinian News Agency WAFA http://www.wafa.ps/english/

Turkish Daily News http://www.turkishdailynews.com.tr/

Jerusalem Post http://www.jpost.com/

Agence France Presse http://www.afp.com/english/home/

Deutsche Press Agentur (non-english) http://www.presseportal.de/

BBC http://news.bbc.co.uk/

The Economist http://www.economist.com/index.html

New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/

The Financial Times http://www.ft.com/home/us

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