Palestinian Talks Could Heal Leadership Divide And Anger Israelis

Apr 23, 2014
Originally published on April 23, 2014 10:06 pm

Palestinian leaders say they're close to a deal that would end the seven-year division between Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Questions remain about whether the deal would hold up, as well as what it might mean for ongoing efforts to forge a deal between Palestinians and Israelis.

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For the past seven years in the Middle East, Palestinian leadership has been deeply divided: Hamas rules the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Authority rules the West Bank. Well, today, they announced a deal that could bring them back together, but that could derail another set of talks, the peace talks with Israel. NPR's Emily Harris is in Jerusalem. She joins us now. Hi there, Emily.


CORNISH: So what would this agreement actually do?

HARRIS: Well, the plan is to form a new Palestinian government, one government that would rule both the West Bank and Gaza. It would include people from all political factions, including Hamas. Likely, it would be technocrats at first because the next step, a very key step, would be to hold new elections both for the president of the Palestinian Authority and for the legislature. Elections were supposed to be held four years ago, but they weren't largely because of this split. And the government is supposed to be formed within five weeks, and the elections held not sooner than six months from then.

CORNISH: But how likely is it that these plans will actually go through?

HARRIS: That is the million-dollar question. There's a lot of skepticism, a lot of wait and see. There also is some hope. Palestinians would like to see their government unified again. Israeli analysts point out that the divide between Hamas and Fatah is not just political. It's that there's differences at their core philosophies. Hamas is Islamist. Fatah is secular. But at this point, they are both in new corners, corners that they haven't necessarily been in before. Hamas, ruling the Gaza Strip, is very isolated, especially isolated because of the change of government in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood government that was ousted last year was a Hamas supporter and the new Egyptian government is not.

The Palestinian Authority President Abbas has not been getting traction in negotiations with Israel. He's also been facing old internal rivalries. And if he could deliver a united Palestinian government, that would give him a lot of points.

CORNISH: When it comes to these peace talks with Israel - I mean, you've got the Palestinian Authority doing the negotiating here. But Hamas, they haven't given up on violence as a way to solve the conflict. I mean, how is this affecting the peace talks?

HARRIS: Well, it's already affected them in one concrete way. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tonight canceled a negotiation's meeting because of this unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas. He said that the Palestinian Authority must choose between peace with Israel or peace with Hamas. The Palestinian Authority President Abbas says there's no contradiction between the unity agreement and continuing negotiations. And he says, he's still aiming for an independent Palestinian state.

Negotiations have been going on since last summer under the auspices of Secretary of State John Kerry. Although the details haven't been made public, it's clear that they haven't gotten to the place that Secretary of State John Kerry had hoped they would have at this point. Right now, they are just trying to figure out if they're going to even keep talking and their deadline for that is next Tuesday.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Emily Harris in Jerusalem. Emily, thank you.

HARRIS: Thanks, Audie. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.