In Cairo yesterday, the rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas announced a reconciliation deal that would create a unified Palestinian Authority for the first time since 2007, when the collapse of a Palestinian unity government left Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip and the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority in control of the West Bank (the photo above shows Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad, left, and Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzook, right, at a news conference on Wednesday). The agreement comes as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas tries to win U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in September.
Today, regional analysts and key stakeholders in the Middle East are weighing in on the deal. Here's what they're saying:
- Deal Torpedoes Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process Israeli officials, who view Hamas as a terrorist organization, are condemning the agreement. Israeli President Shimon Peres characterized the deal as "a fatal mistake that will prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state and will sabotage chances of peace," according to Reuters. He expressed concern that Hamas would take control of the West Bank when the two factions hold elections as part of the unity deal, strengthening the hand of Hamas ally and Israeli enemy Iran.
- But the Peace Process Was Going Nowhere "Hamas-Fatah reconciliation (if it happens) complicates short term process of going nowhere, necessary for long-term two-state peace," tweets Foreign Policy's Marc Lynch.
- And Palestinians Must Unify "Agree or disagree [with Hamas]--they're our people. You, Mr Netanyahu [are] our partner," the Palestinian Authority's Abbas declared, per Reuters, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Abbas also said his Palestine Liberation Organization, and not Hamas, would handle peace negotiations with Israel.
- Deal Is a 'Triumph' Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi called the agreement the "first triumph of the great Egyptian people" in reference to the Egyptian mediators who helped broker the deal and said it would "lead to the speeding up of developments in the Palestinian arena and the gaining of great victories in facing the [Israeli] occupiers, according to AFP.
- Netanyahu Will Escape From Peace Process Netanyahu now won't withdraw Israeli troops from the West Bank because it could "fall into Hamas hands and become an Iranian terror base," explains Aluf Benn at the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. He adds that if a third intifida occurs in Israel (tellingly, he writes "when the third intifada erupts"), Netanyahu will "appear as the West's last bastion of hope in the face of the Islamic wave washing over the Middle East."
- But Israel Must Advance the Peace Process Nonetheless Yes, the deal will bolster Netanyahu's claim that Israel is under siege, The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg explains. But Israeli officials must push forward nonetheless. "Israel must find, now--not later, but now--a formula that will allow it to withdraw its settlers from beyond the security fence, and to create conditions for the emergence of, at the very least, a more autonomous Palestinian entity, one that would become independent as soon as Israel can figure out a way to neutralize the Iranian threat," he writes.
- Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Will Resurface in Arab World During the Middle East uprisings, James M. Dorsey explains at the Dubai-based Al Arabiya, the Israeli-Palestinian dispute has receded into the background. But if the U.S. and Europe refuse to deal with the new Palestinian Authority because of the presence of Hamas, it would "provoke anger in the Arab world, where emotions are already enflamed by the wave of protests." He adds that the Hamas-Fatah agreement is, in part, a "product of the protests," citing demonstrations in the West Bank and Gaza calling for Palestinian unity and Hamas's desire to hedge its bets in case Bashar al-Assad, a major ally, falls in Syria.