In a historical moment yesterday Hamas and Fatah, Palestine’s two warring factions, signed a peace deal in Cairo brokered by the Egyptians that would unite them in common cause in ending the occupation in the West Bank and the siege of the Gaza Strip. The deal has already angered the Zionist Israeli government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has stated that the Palestinian Authority led by President Mahmoud Abbas must make a choice between a peace deal with Israel and a peace deal with Hamas adding emphatically that Abbas cannot have both.
The deal has set the stage for a confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians which could include Israeli unilaterally annexing parts of the West Bank and repealing the Oslo Accords, moves which Likud Member of the Knesset (MK) Danny Danon has already set in motion in the Knesset. Such a move is likely to be supported by other right-wing Israeli Zionist parties that make up Netanyahu’s fragile coalition government. Uzi Landau of the extreme right-wing Israel Beiteinu party told an audience on 21 April: “We'll have to protect ourselves. If such a thing happens, I'm going to suggest to my government to extend our sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and over the highly-populated blocs we have in Judea and Samaria”, adding ominously, ”just to start with.”
Ever since Hamas unexpectedly won the Palestinian elections of January 2006, Israel has strived to wedge the two Palestinian factions. Immediately after the result was announced, both the Israelis and the US refused to recognise the new Hamas government-elect threatening to withdraw all financial support to the Palestinians and proclaiming Fatah the only government they would support. As Hamas attempted to exert authority fighting broke out between the two factions in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. With the support of the Israelis who occupy the West Bank, Fatah were able to easily and quickly prevail. However, in the Gaza Strip where there were no Israeli occupation forces to support the Fatah elements in the Gaza, Hamas, despite US and Israeli support by way of weapons being given to Fatah forces, were able to consolidate their control over the Strip and force Fatah out. The Israelis have continued to drive a wedge between the two factions ever since refusing to talk to Hamas under any circumstances.
Netanyahu’s response to yesterday’s deal signals an end to Israel’s relationship with Abbas and his Fatah movement, especially if the deal goes ahead. A number of options are available to Netanyahu, few of which are likely to be acceptable to the US and even less so to world opinion.
While annexation of all of the West Bank and Gaza as part of the Zionists Greater Israel dream has always been the long term aim of right-wing Zionism, efforts by some more extreme Zionists in the Knesset have proven to be premature. As recently as February of this year only four MK’s supported such a motion when it was put forward in the Israeli parliament. However, the latest developments may well cause MK’s to reconsider their stance by voting in favour of annexation of at least parts of the West Bank when MK Danny Danon next brings it up to the vote. There can be no doubt that if a vote is made in favour of annexation that this would change the entire Israeli-Palestinian geo-political situation.
Much also depends on how President Obama reacts to the new situation, though it is very unlikely that the administration will continue to support statehood if Hamas are likely to be part of any new Palestinian government. In order to force a change of heart from Abbas, Obama could threaten sanctions against the Palestinian Authority such as suspending aid, though Abbas would not doubt have already taken that into consideration when entering into the deal.
Clearly, if the deal is going to be on, then it is a real game-changer in the Middle East. How the players react to the new arrangements will determine how dangerous the situation will become.