Although the agreement raised the prospect of reuniting the Palestinians, it was likely to strain their relations with Washington and with Israel, both of which consider Hamas a terrorist organization and refuse to deal with it.
At a joint news conference in Cairo, where the agreement was secretly negotiated with Egyptian mediation, Mousa Abu Marzook, head of the Hamas delegation, said that “the changing political realities in the Arab world” had “a very real impact on this agreement.”
In a nod to the recent demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Azzam al-Ahmad, the top Fatah representative, said: “We say to the Palestinian people who took to the streets chanting, ‘The people want an end to the division!’ — what you wanted was realized today.”
The accord comes as the Palestinians work to secure recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations in September amid a continuing impasse in peace efforts. A healing of the rift between Fatah and Hamas was widely seen by many Palestinians as an imperative precondition to any move toward independence and ending Israeli occupation.
The reconciliation agreement provides for the establishment of a government of technocrats that would prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections in a year and work for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, officials on both sides said. The accord also calls for elections to the Palestine National Council, the broadest decision-making body of the Palestine Liberation Organization, and the formation of a joint security committee.
After winning parliamentary elections in 2006, Hamas, a militant Islamist movement, became embroiled in a power struggle with the secular nationalist Fatah party. Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in June 2007, routing Fatah forces in a brief factional war. Fatah remains dominant in the West Bank, where it is the ruling party in the Palestinian Authority.
Although details of the agreement between the two factions remain to be worked out before a final signature, the prospect of internal Palestinian reconciliation appears certain to complicate efforts to broker a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians.
Even before the understanding was formally announced, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu put Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on notice that reconciliation with Hamas would doom the peace process.
“The Palestinian Authority must choose between peace with Israel or peace with Hamas,” Netanyahu said in televised remarks. “Peace with both of them is impossible, because Hamas aspires to destroy the state of Israel and says so openly. It fires missiles on our cities. It fires antitank missiles at our children.” Netanyahu was referring to a recent attack on a school bus by militants in Gaza that killed a 16-year-old boy.