In 2006, Hamas won a legislative election for the Palestinian parliament. The result rankled the Bush administration. So Elliot Abrams conspired with Mahmoud Abbas to mount a coup. The plan was for Fatah to throw out the election results and assume power in both the West Bank and Gaza. Abbas assigned the task in Gaza to his brutal henchman, Mohammed Dahlan. It failed because Gazans detested him. Hamas fought back, exiled Dahlan, and it took over Gaza. Thenceforth, Fatah controlled the West Bank and Hamas controlled Gaza.
There have been many attempts at Hamas-Fatah reconciliation over the years. All have failed. But in 2021, they came sealed a deal that would have not only united the rivals, but would have resolved many of the outstanding issues preventing an Israel-Palestine peace agreement.
Both parties to the deal were spurred by the Abraham Accords, in which four Arab countries, under US tutelage, normalized relations with Israel. The Accords threatened to eliminate solidarity with Palestine as a priority for the signatories and the entire Arab world. The Palestinians were desperate to regain momentum and keep their case before the world.
Prof. Menachem Klein summarizes the terms of the agreement:
In February and March 2021, Fatah and Hamas…reached an agreement to hold elections for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority, its Legislative Council, and Hamas’ entry into the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The elections were planned to take place in accordance with the Oslo Accords, after which negotiations would continue with Israel toward the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The agreement included a commitment to uphold international law, establish a state within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, recognize the PLO as the legitimate and exclusive umbrella framework, conduct a peaceful popular struggle, and transfer the separate government in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority.
Hamas would have joined the PLO and assumed senior positions within it. Hamas would agree to abide by all previous agreements made by the PLO under Oslo, including an end to armed conflict.
This stands in marked contrast to this 2012 interview, in which Abu Marzouk stated the group’s hardline positions:
“We will not recognize Israel as a state,” he said emphatically. “It will be like the relationship between Lebanon and Israel or Syria and Israel.”
…He indicated no new flexibility that would move Hamas closer to accepting conditions laid down by the so-called Quartet…for his group’s participation in the now moribund Middle East peace process. Abu Marzook did not, however, foreclose the possibility of a more accommodating relationship with Israel in the future.
This statement from the interview is almost prescient:
Pressed regarding concerns that Hamas’s goal during a hudna [extended truce] would remain the destruction of Israel as a state, and that a truce would give Hamas time to build up its arms toward that end, Abu Marzook said: “It’s very difficult to say after 10 years what will be on both sides. Maybe my answer right now [about recognizing Israel] is completely different to my answer after 10 years.”
By 2017, five years later, Hamas did just that–amending its Charter by accepting Israel’s existence.
The 2021 agreement called for East Jerusalem residents to vote. However, Israel rejected this provision because it undermined their claim to sovereignty. Hamas–a group whom the world has decried as rigid, unrelenting and inflexible–accepted elections without East Jerusalem.
Abbas presented the deal to the Biden administration and sought its cooperation in selling it to the Israelis. The response was not only a resounding NO, both pressured Abbas to cancel the elections:
In the end, Abbas capitulated under severe pressure. The “Unity Intifada” began a few days later, and with it, Hamas’ Operation “Sword of Jerusalem” and Israel’s “Operation Guardian of the Walls.” According to reports in the New York Times and Washington Post, it was around that same time that Al-Aqsa Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, began conceiving and planning what would become “Al-Aqsa Flood” — the murderous assault of October 7.
When the unity plan failed, Hamas then turned its back on political negotiations and pursued armed resistance instead. If the world refused to recognize Palestinian rights through a political process, Hamas would compel it to do so by force of arms.
Sadat’s rejected offer led to disastrous 1973 War
Klein likens the 2021 failure to a similar Arab peace proposal offered to Israel by Egyptian Pres. Anwar Sadat:
In 1971, two years before the war…Sadat proposed a partial arrangement with Israel, in which the latter would withdraw…from the Suez Canal…[It] would be opened for international navigation…A small number of Egyptian troops would also move to the area from which Israel would withdraw to symbolize the return of Egyptian sovereignty. This arrangement, in turn, would serve as a link toward a more comprehensive agreement based on UN Security Council Resolution 242.
Then Prime Minister Golda Meir made a fateful error in rejecting his overture. After Israel’s triumphant victory in the 1967 War, she believed Israel was virtually impregnable. She misunderstood Egyptian politics, and treated Sadat as if he was no different than his predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser. After the 1973 War, in which 2,600 IDF soldiers died, Israel signed an armistice with most of the provisions Sadat had offered in 1971. Meir accepted responsibility for the catastrophe and resigned.
Israel and the US repeated this failure by rejecting the 2021 reconciliation agreement. Great leaders understand their strengths as well as their limitations. They see when opportunity presents itself. They understand strategic interest and take risks to realize them, even if it means upsetting consensus. Israel has never had such vision. Nor has Joe Biden. If they had, it would have averted the tragedy of 10/7.
Abraham Accords: the Biden achievement that wasn’t
Pres. Biden saw the Abraham Accords as one of the few Middle East achievements of his administration. He even foresaw the crowning glory of Saudi Arabia joining the other four signatories. It was a process he could tout going into the 2024 elections. It also cemented relations with Israel by offering it recognition it had been denied throughout its existence.
There was little reason for the US to encourage Palestinian reconciliation. It seemed a side-show distracting from the Accords. Not to mention, it would complicate relations with Israel.
This was a fateful mistake. Had there been strategic foresight, US policy-makers could have grasped this opportunity to solve one of the most intractable global conflicts. Instead, Biden put his eggs into one basket; and 10/7 smashed it to the ground and broke them. Now he will have nothing to show for his efforts, as he heads into the presidential election campaign facing mounting opposition from an American public that disapproves of his handling of the Gaza war.
Hamas repeats its 2021 offer
Two weeks ago, Al Monitor published an interview (pdf) with Mousa Abu Marzouk, Hamas’ international relations chief. He reaffirmed all of the provisions of the 2021 deal, including recognition of Israel:
“You should follow the official stance,” Abu Marzouk said. “The official stance is that the [Palestine Liberation Organization] has recognized the state of Israel….We are seeking to be a part of the PLO, and we said we will respect the PLO’s obligations,” Abu Marzouk said when asked to clarify Hamas’ position on Israel. He added that Israelis should have their rights “but not at the expense of others.”
…Abu Marzouk said Hamas was still seeking statehood based on the pre-1967 boundaries. The Gaza-based group in 2017 unveiled a policy document accepting the formation of a Palestinian state based on the borders that existed before Israel occupied east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War of
It’s important to note that he affirms that “Israelis should have their rights.” By which he refers to their nationality, thus affirming recognition of Israel. The phrase following, “not at the expense of others,” alludes to the Occupation and rights of Palestinians to statehood. Again, in accord with his other statements in the interview and the aforementioned Hamas Charter.
Hamas conceded in 2021 every demand the world imposed on it: ending armed resistance, recognizing Israel, integrating into the PLO. Yet Biden turned his back. Now Hamas offers the same deal and the world will once again, tragically, miss yet another opportunity. It may be too late given the blood that has been shed. But the deal was on the table in 2021 and we let it pass. The deal is still on the table. We turn away from it again, at our peril.
The amorphous, conflicting “day-after” plans suggested by the US and Israel for Gaza, amount to little more than smoke and mirrors. Israel wants to expel 2.5-million Gazans. Failing that, it would occupy Gaza indefinitely. The US wants to unload Gaza on the barely functioning Palestinian Authority after “revitalizing” it in some unspecified way. These are all plan to be imposed on Palestinians. Plans about which they’ve never been consulted and which they never accepted. We’ve seen the same process in Afghanistan and Iraq. They led sectarian civil war and the deaths of millions. We spent trillions and lost thousands of soldiers in a lost cause to impose our vision. In Afghanistan’s case, the Taliban overthrew the government we had imposed, and returned to power.
Without the consent of the governed, including Hamas, these day-after schemes can never work.