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The divisions between the two main Palestinian political factions, Fatah and Hamas, are ideological differences in objectives, governance, and relations with Israel. While initially both openly sanctioned violence against Israel, they went different ways since the conclusion of the 1993/1995 Oslo Accords peace accords. Fatah recognized Israel's right to exist and led the efforts toward a two-state solution with Israel, while Hamas maintained its charter and officially rejected peace process with Israel. Hamas initiated a long campaign of suicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis.
The failure of the Camp David summit in July 2000 laid the groundwork for popular support for a more confrontational approach with Israel. Ideological differences in objectives, governance, and relations with Israel, existed between Fatah and Hamas. Fatah was founded to promote the armed struggle to liberate all Palestine from Israeli control. After recognizing Israel’s right to exist, and creating the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1993, the PLO’s official charter was updated to reflect the new stance. In 2002, under tremendous pressure, Arafat found a compromise and publicly condemned new attacks on Israeli citizens, yet maintained that armed resistance within the Palestinian Territories was legitimate. Even so, Fatah members had been at the forefront of protests in 2000. Hamas, on the other hand, initiated a long campaign of suicide bombings and other attacks on Israelis lasting until 2004. Fatah hoped that agreements with Israel would end the occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state; Hamas opposed the agreements and refused to recognize Israel. The Tanzim faction of Fatah, representing the party's more youthful element, was involved from the start. The international community wanted the Israeli–Palestinian conflict solved by negotiations and particularly through the 2003 Roadmap for peace; it preferred to support Fatah and reject Hamas joining the Palestinian Authority.
The tensions between Hamas and Fatah began to rise after the death of Fatah leader Yasser Arafat on 11 November 2004. They intensified after Hamas won the elections of 2006 and the international community increased the pressure on the Palestinian Authority. In January 2006 Hamas refrained from reiterating calls for the destruction of Israel in its election manifesto.
2006 elections and Hamas-government
With the death of Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian Authority was left without a strong leader. Hamas won the 2006 legislative election. As a result of the Hamas led government's refusal to commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements, the states of Israel, the Quartet (United States, Russia, United Nations, and European Union), several Western states, and the Arab states imposed sanctions suspending all foreign aid.
On 25 June 2006, militant groups conducted a cross-border raid into Israel. The Israeli response left Hamas with half its parliamentary bloc and its cabinet ministers in the West Bank in Israeli custody.
Involvement of Britain, United States, Israel and Arab states
Documents published in the Palestine Papers reveal that the British intelligence MI6 in 2004, helped draw up a security plan for Fatah-led Palestinian Authority. The plan mentioned as an objective, "encourage and enable the Palestinian Authority (PA) to fully meet its security obligations under Phase 1 of the Roadmap". It proposes a number of ways of "degrading the capabilities of rejectionists", naming Hamas, PIJ (Palestinian Islamic Jihad) and the al-Aqsa Brigades. The plan was described by the Guardian as a "wide-ranging crackdown on Hamas". The supposed plan for a Fatah counter-insurgence against Hamas backfired in June 2006, when Hamas won the 2006 elections.
Several sources speak of considerable involvement by the US, Israel and Arab states, after Hamas announced the formation of its own security service, the Executive Force, which was denounced by Mahmoud Abbas as unconstitutional. The Presidential Guard of Mahmoud Abbas was enlarged and equipped, and its members trained by the US, Egypt and Jordan Also, a PLC council member for Hamas, Anwar Zaboun, believes that ″Mohammed Dahlan had a big plan to remove the roots of Hamas, the resistance, in Gaza and the West Bank″.
According to the IISS, the June 2007 escalation was triggered by Hamas' conviction that the PA's Presidential Guard, loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, was being positioned to take control of Gaza. The US had helped build up the Presidential Guard to 3,500 men since August 2006. The US committed $59 million for training and non-lethal equipment for the Presidential Guard, and persuaded Arab allies to fund the purchase of further weapons. Israel, too, allowed light arms to flow to members of the Presidential Guard. Jordan and Egypt hosted at least two battalions for training.
Struggle for power after 2006 elections
March 2006 to December 2006: rise of tensions
Following the elections, Hamas announced the formation of its own security service, the Executive Force, appointing Jamal abu Samhadana, a prominent militant, at its head. Abbas had denounced the move as unconstitutional, saying that only the Palestinian president could command armed forces.
The period from March to December 2006 was marked by tensions when Palestinian Authority commanders affiliated to Fatah refused to take orders from the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority government. Tensions further grew between the two Palestinian factions after they failed to reach a deal to share government power. On 15 December, Abbas called for a Palestinian general election. Hamas challenged the legality of holding an early election, maintaining its right to hold the full term of its democratically elected offices. Hamas characterized this as an attempted Fatah coup by Abbas, using undemocratic means to overthrow the results of a democratically elected government.
December 2006 to January 2007
On 15 December 2006, fighting broke out in the West Bank after Palestinian National Security Forces fired on a Hamas rally in Ramallah. At least 20 people were wounded in the clashes, which came shortly after Fatah troops loyal to Muhammed Dahlan attempted to assassinate Ismail Haniya, the Palestinian prime minister. Intense factional fighting continued throughout December 2006 and January 2007 in the Gaza Strip.
After of month in which factional fighting left 33 people dead. President Mahmoud Abbas attempted to incorporated Hamas-led Executive Force into the security apparatus loyal to the president. Hamas rejected Abbas' order, instead announced plans to double the size of its force. On 6 January 2007, Abbas outlawed the Executive Force and ordered its disbandment. Fightings erupted until a cease-fire on 30 January. The dueling announcements raised the prospect of an intensified armed standoff. Abbas's only means of enforcing the order appeared to be coercive action by police and security units under his command, but they are relatively weak in the Gaza Strip, Hamas's stronghold.
February to April 2007
Fierce fightings took place after Hamas killed 6 people on 1 February in an ambush on a Gaza convoy which delivered equipment for Abbas' Palestinian Presidential Guard, according to diplomats, meant to counter smuggling of more powerful weapons into Gaza by Hamas for its fast-growing "Executive Force". According to Hamas, the deliveries to the Presidential Guard were intended to instigate sedition (against Hamas), while withholding money and assistance from the Palestinian people.
On 8 February 2007, The Saudi-brokered initiative in Mecca produced agreement on a Palestinian national unity government signed by Fatah and Hamas leaders. The agreement included measures to end the internecine violence. The unity government was formed on 17 March. However, it would struggle to resolve the two most pressing issues it faces an economic crisis and a collapse of security in Gaza. However, minor incidents continued through March and April 2007. More than 90 people were killed in these first months.
In mid-May 2007, clashes erupted once again in the streets of Gaza. In less than 18 days, more than 50 Palestinians were killed. Leaders of both parties tried to stop the fighting by calling dozens of truces, but none of them held for longer than a few days.
By most accounts, Hamas performed better than Fatah in the second round of fighting. Some attribute this to the discipline and better training of Hamas's fighters as most of the casualties were from the Fatah faction.
June 2007: split of government
Throughout 10 and 15 June of fighting Hamas took control of the main north–south road and the coastal road. and removed Fatah officials. The ICRC estimated that at least 118 people were killed and more than 550 wounded during the fighting in the week up to June 15. Human Rights Watch accused both sides with violations of international humanitarian law. Including the targeting and killing of civilians, public executions of political opponents and captives, throwing prisoners off high-rise apartment buildings, fighting in hospitals, and shooting from a jeep marked with "TV" insignias. The International Committee of the Red Cross has denounced attacks in and around two hospitals in the northern part of the Gaza strip. The Israeli government closed all check-points on the borders of Gaza in response to the violence.
On June 14, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced the dissolution of the current unity government and the declaration of a state of emergency. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya was dismissed, and Abbas began to rule Gaza and the West Bank by presidential decree. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri responded by declaring that President Abbas's decision was "in practical terms ... worthless," asserting that Haniya "remains the head of the government even if it was dissolved by the president".
Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace commented that under the 2003 Palestinian Constitution Abbas clearly had the right to declare a state of emergency and dismiss the prime minister but the state of emergency could continue only for 30 days. After that it would need to be renewed by the (Hamas-dominated) Legislative Council, which also constrained the breadth of his emergency powers. Neither Hamas nor Fatah had enough votes to form a new government under the constitution. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights condemned Hamas' "decision to resolve the conflict militarily" but argued that "steps taken by President Mahmoud Abbas in response to these events violate the Basic Law and undermine the Basic Law in a manner that is no less dangerous."
On June 15, Abbas appointed Salam Fayyad as prime minister and gave him the task of forming a new government.
The attacks of Hamas gunmen against Fatah security forces in the Gaza Strip resulted in a reaction of Fatah gunmen against Hamas institutions in the West Bank. Although Hamas's numbers were greater in the Gaza Strip, Fatah forces were greater in the West Bank.
The West Bank had its first casualty when the bullet-riddled body of a Hamas militant was found in Nablus, sparking the fear that Fatah would use its advantage in the West Bank for retaliation against its members' deaths in the Gaza Strip On the same day, Hamas also declared that it was in full control of Gaza, a claim denied by Abbas.
On June 16, a Fatah-linked militant group, the al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigades, stormed the Hamas-controlled parliament based in Ramallah in the West Bank. This act, including the ransack of the ministry of education, was seen as a reaction to similar looting occurring following Hamas' military success in Gaza.
On June 20, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar declared that if Fatah continued to try to uproot Hamas in the West Bank, it could lead to Fatah's downfall there as well. He would not deny when asked that Hamas resistance against Fatah would take the form of attacks and suicide bombings similar to those that Hamas has used against Israel in the past.
Separate Gaza and West Bank governments
October to November 2007: renewed clashes
On 17 October, clashes erupted in eastern Gaza between Hamas security forces and members of the powerful Heles clan (Fatah-affiliated), leaving up to two dead on both sides. Fatah and Hamas officials gave conflicting accounts of what caused the fighting but the dispute seems to have originated when Hamas officials demanded that the clan return a governmental car. Another gun battle on October 20 killed one member of the clan and a 13-year-old boy. During the same day, in Rafah, one woman was killed and eight people were injured when Hamas security members traded fire with Islamic Jihad activists. Two days later, 7 more Palestinians were killed in the internal fighting, including some Hamas militants and a Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant.
On 12 November, a large demonstration dedicated to the memory of late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat was organized by Fatah in Gaza City. With over 200,000 participants, this was the largest Fatah demonstration in the Gaza Strip since the Hamas takeover. The demonstration was forcibly dispersed by Hamas gunmen, who fired into the crowd. At least six civilians were killed and over 80 people were injured, some from being trampled in the resulting stampede. The smaller militant group Islamic Jihad, whose members have clashed with Hamas several times, condemned the shootings.
On 1 January 2008, at least eight people died in factional fighting in the Gaza Strip.
On 31 May 2009, six people were killed as Palestinian Authority and Hamas forces clashed in Qalqilya. Ethan Bronner described the fighting as an indication "that the Palestinian unity needed for creation of a state is far off."
Following the Egyptian Revolution of 2011 and the deposal of Egyptian president Morsi in July 2013, tensions between Fatah and Hamas reached a new high. According to Barakat al-Farra, the PLO ambassador in Cairo, the Egyptian US-backed el-Sisi regime, which annually receives some $1.5 billion military aid from the US, will keep the Rafah border crossing closed, until forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have regained control. A Hamas official accused the PA leadership of playing a major role in enforcing the blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Since Hamas' takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, numerous reconciliation attempts are made. Despite a number of agreements, those attempts have not been successful. Israel and major parts of the international community, notably the United States have effectively opposed reconciliation. Israel consistenly argues that Hamas wants to destroy Israel, referring to the 1988 Hamas Covenant and ignoring the present more moderate Hamas striving for an independent Palestinian state within the 1967-borders.
In 2009, Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would never make peace with Hamas and ″cannot accept Hamas as a negotiating partner″. In 2011, he ruled out a peace agreement, if Fatah and Hamas would reconcile. He said: ″The PA must choose either peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. There is no possibility for peace with both″ and ″How can you talk to us about peace when you're talking about peace with Hamas. You can choose [to make] peace with Israel or you can choose peace with Hamas″. An Israeli official declared that Israel would cut its ties with the Palestinian Authority if it brought Hamas into its government.
In September 2013, Abbas admitted that he was under pressure from the US and Israel not to achieve unity with Hamas. PLC council member for Hamas Anwar Zaboun said that both USA and EU maintain a veto on the reconciliation.
During the Battle of Gaza (2007)
Fatah–Hamas Mecca Agreement was signed between Fatah and Hamas in the city of Mecca on February 8, 2007 after eight days of talks, agreeing to stop the military clashes in the Gaza Strip and form a government of national unity.
Early attempts (2008–2010)
On March 23, 2008, Hamas and Fatah signed an agreement in Sana'a, Yemen that amounted to a reconciliation deal. It called for a return of the Gaza Strip to the pre-June 2007 situation, though this has not happened. On November 8, 2008, Palestinian reconciliation talks due to be held in Cairo were called off on Saturday after Hamas announced a boycott in protest at the detention of hundreds of its members by president Mahmoud Abbas's security forces.
Hamas and Fatah, among other Palestinian groups, held talks aimed at reconciling rival factions for the first time in two years in February 2010. In March 2010, on the Doha Debates television show, representatives of Fatah and Hamas discussed the future of the Palestinian leadership.
After six rounds of reconciliation talks that resulted in failure, in early September 2010, Cairo did put forward a new document. The document envisioned general elections to be held in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank in the first half of 2010, a reform of Palestinian security services under the Egyptian control and the release of political prisoners by both factions. The agreement was however stalled due to "inappropriate conditions."
April 2011 Cairo agreement
On April 27, 2011, representatives of the two factions announced an agreement, mediated by Egypt, to form a joint caretaker government, with presidential and legislative elections to be held in 2012.
On May 4, 2011 at a ceremony in Cairo the agreement was formally signed by the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshal. The accord provided ground for forming a "transitional" government of technocrats to prepare for legislative and presidential elections to the Palestinian Authority in one year. It also permitted the entry of Hamas into the Palestine Liberation Organization and holding of elections to its Palestine National Council decision-making body. The Palestinian Authority was to continue to handle security in the West Bank, as does Hamas in Gaza Strip. They were aimed to form a joint security committee to decide on future security arrangements.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called the accord "a mortal blow to peace and a big prize for terror." The United States said that it would judge the new Palestinian government by its policies and that it would have to recognize Israel, accept previous agreements with it and renounce violence. Khaled Meshal said that Hamas was prepared to work with Fatah to guide both Palestinian diplomacy and "resistance in all its forms" and that Hamas shared the goal of establishing "a Palestinian state, independent and completely sovereign, on the lands of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with its capital, Jerusalem, without a single settler, without conceding a single inch and without conceding the right of return" of Palestinian refugees to their former homes in Israel.
In June 2011, following the unity accord, negotiations proceeded regarding the formation of a unity government. Among the issues discussed were recognition of Israel, security, governance, relations with the West, and economic policy. Hamas had initially indicated that it wished to remain out of governance to focus on the more social work it conducted prior to its 2006 ascendancy, but it later retracted this statement. Negotiations were derailed over the issue of who would assume the position of Prime Minister, after Hamas rejected the appointment of current Palestinian Authority PM Salam Fayyad.
In 2011, Commission for Human Rights (ICHR), observed that "due to the failure of the reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas throughout 2010, and the ongoing internal political division, the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip have been the main victims of the political dispute between both combatant parties," the report observed. Noting the "overwhelming majority" of prisoners being political prisoners as well as "delayed, circumvented or ignored rulings by Palestinian court" and "rise in torture allegations from the previous year". Both groups nevertheless expressed willingness to tackle the issue of political prisoners as a gesture of goodwill. Hamas spokesman Taher al-Nunu said the group would grant amnesty to some 30 Fatah-affiliated political prisoners held after the group took over the Gaza Strip in 2007. Fatah's Sha'ath, also speaking in Gaza, said preparations were underway to release dozens of Hamas prisoners being held in the West Bank.
February 2012 Doha agreement
The Doha deal, signed by Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Mashal in February 2012, was described as a step forward in the stalled implementation of the Palestinian reconciliation agreement, signed in Cairo in April 2011.
In March 2012, Mahmoud Abbas stated that there were no political differences between Hamas and Fatah as they had reached agreement on a joint political platform and on a truce with Israel. Commenting on relations with Hamas, Abbas revealed in an interview with Al-Jazeera that "We agreed that the period of calm would be not only in the Gaza Strip, but also in the West Bank," adding that "We also agreed on a peaceful popular resistance [against Israel], the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders and that the peace talks would continue if Israel halted settlement construction and accepted our conditions."
On April 1, The reconciliation implementation however was described as "stalling", with no progress on the joint elections scheme. In addition, the Fatah blamed Hamas that its security forces have set up roadblocks and arrested dozens of Fatah members and individuals in Gaza, whom they accused of "spreading rumors." In a letter to Binyamin Netanyahu in April 2012, Abbas expressed his regret that Israeli continued to oppose a reconciliation.
May 2012 Cairo accord
On May 2012, Hamas and Fatah signed a further agreement in Cairo for new unity government and implementation of Palestinian elections, three and a half months after the Doha agreement. The new Cairo agreement essentially took steps to carry out the previous Doha agreement, particularly the registering of new voters in the Gaza Strip and the formation of an interim government.
Following upgrade of Palestine in UN
In December 2012, in the aftermath of the UN status upgrade of the State of Palestine and the conflict in Gaza, calls for a unified Palestinian front have increased and the political leaders of Hamas and Fatah took several steps to reconcile their differences. In a televised address, PA President Mahmoud Abbas stressed that talks with Hamas would immediately follow the Palestinians' bid to upgrade their status at the UN General Assembly—an effort that succeeded. On 13 December, Fatah allowed Hamas to hold its first rally in the West bank since 2007, and on 4 January 2013, Hamas reciprocated by allowing Fatah supporters to hold a rally in Gaza for the first time since the civil war. On 9 January, it was announced that Khaled Meshaal and Mahmoud Abbas were holding renewed reconciliation talks in Cairo led by Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi.
April 2014 Gaza agreement
On 23 April 2014, Fatah and Hamas announced a new reconciliation agreement which would see a unity government formed within five weeks, ahead of a presidential and parliamentary election within six months. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the reconciliation deal did not contradict their commitment to peace with Israel on the basis of a two-state solution.
On 2 June 2014, President Abbas swore in the new technocratic unity government, headed by the incumbent PM, Rami Hamdallah. The Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, said that world leaders should not rush to recognise the new government, calling Hamas a terrorist organisation that is committed to the destruction of Israel. The Palestinian PM's office issued a statement denouncing Netanyahu's words as intended to continue Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
West Bank plot
In the midst of negotiations to resolve the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, the Shin Bet revealed an alleged plot by Hamas to depose Fatah rule in the West Bank. This would be achieved by deploying Hamas cells around the West Bank to incite a third intifada and overwhelm Palestinian Authority forces. More than 90 people were arrested. President Abbas said the plot was "a grave threat to the unity of the Palestinian people and its future."
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The Palestinian letter also expresses regret that Israel opposes the Palestinian Authority's efforts to reconcile with Hamas.
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- Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine, by Jonathan Schanzer (2008)
- "Analysis on the Legality of New PA Elections"
- "Palestinian factions 'agree deal'"
- "Abbas insists will hold elections"
- "Review by the Reut Institute: Hamas Consolidates; Fatah Disoriented"
- Shock, awe and dread Details on methods Hamas used to suppress opposition, by Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz 06.28.07
- Frustration over Ramallah violence
- Palestinian rivals: Fatah & Hamas
- No agreement in Palestinian talks
- "PA unity deal a disaster" Secular Palestinians surrender to religious fanaticism in Mecca deal, by Ray Hanania, Ynetnews 02.15.07
- Gaza on the Verge of Civil War Andrew Lee Butters, Time May 14, 2007
- Q&A: Gaza's civil war Mark Tran, The Guardian May 14, 2007
- 'It's dangerous inside and out.' By Ibrahim Barzak, reporter's account of a nerve-racking day in Gaza City during factional fighting, Associated Press May 17, 2007
- Gunning in Gaza The Economist print edition, May 17, 2007
- Sacrificing the Palestinian struggle Article by Israeli journalist Amira Hass June 14, 2007
- A selection of links and news concerning the Palestinian Basic Law