The Palestinian Spring?

Hamas and Fatah Have Unified, but not Yet Reconciled

Palestinian school children celebrate the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas in the West Bank city of Jenin, May 4, 2011. Abed Omar Qusin / Courtesy Reuters

Soon after the Arab revolts began, thousands of West Bankers and Gazans took to the streets. Unlike their fellow Arabs, however, the Palestinians clamored for new unity efforts rather than new leaders. For their parts, both the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas’ de facto government in Gaza had professed a desire to reunify ever since they broke apart four years ago. But the enmity and differences between them had been too great to overcome. As Fatah and Hamas’ patrons fell from power or were severely weakened, Palestinian leaders realized that they would need to renew their legitimacy from within and that unification would be their best bet. For better or worse, this week’s unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas would never have occurred had the ongoing Arab uprisings not changed both parties’ political fortunes.

Now Palestinians are committed to a dangerous course -- many of the unity agreement’s critical details remain either unknown or unresolved. Although the Palestinians may be on a path toward political reunification, true reconciliation is unlikely and peace negotiations with Israel are now off the table for the foreseeable future. A United Nations vote granting Palestine membership in the General Assembly this September would only complicate matters. It could lead to unilateral Israeli actions on the ground and renewed Israeli-Palestinian violence.

When the Arab uprisings first started in Tunisia last December, Palestinian politics were already in tumult. Negotiations with Israel over the establishment of a Palestinian state were stalemated with no prospect of renewal in sight. Meanwhile, Hamas had been pummeling Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the umbrella group recognized by Israel and most of the world as the representative of the Palestinian people, and the PA over Al Jazeera’s January 24 publication of some 1600 leaked internal documents, which portrayed Palestinian peace negotiators as having been overly accommodating towards Israel after the 2008 Annapolis peace conference without gaining much in return.

In the days that followed, the lead

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