What happened: Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Gaza-based Hamas held an extremely rare joint press conference in Ramallah to protest the proposed Israeli move of applying sovereignty to parts of the West Bank.
- Fatah Secretary-General Jibril Rajoub and Hamas deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri, who is responsible for remotely directing the group’s terror activities in the West Bank, announced that their parties would “unify their efforts” and collaborate “on the ground,” raising fear in Israel of violence and a new wave of terror targeting Israeli civilians and soldiers. Al-Arouri spoke via an online link from Lebanon.
- Rajoub said: “We call on all Palestinian factions to see cooperation between Hamas and Fatah as a historic opportunity for a joint fight to establish a Palestinian state and oppose the Israeli occupation.” Rajoub called Hamas a “complete partner” in the fight against the proposed annexation, adding: “We are leaving this meeting under one flag, with which we oppose annexation. We want to open a new page [in Hamas-Fatah ties] and set an example for the people, prisoners and martyrs.”
- Al-Arouri said that Israel should not “disregard the Palestinian determination” to oppose the annexation at all costs. “If Israel annexes part of the territory in the West Bank, no matter which one, it will continue to annex more. This indicates that Israel perceives the West Bank as an essential part of Israel.”
- Joint List Chairman Ayman Odeh also attended the press conference, sparking public criticism. Odeh said that “reconciliation between the factions is a vital step for battling against annexation, ending the occupation and achieving a just peace. The continuation of the split serves only those who want the continuation of the occupation and to create apartheid. Anyone who supports the two-state solution should also support reconciliation.”
- The Likud condemned Odeh for participating, saying: “Odeh has reached a new low, taking part in a conference with Hamas members who called to murder Israelis … this is the man with whom Yair Lapid and Moshe Yaalon wanted to form a government. There is no limit to the shame.”
- Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Lieberman tweeted, “Ayman Odeh attended a virtual conference of Fatah and Hamas on the virtual annexation of Netanyahu. I hope that Ayman Odeh and his friends will soon become as virtual as the conference.”
Context: Fatah officials are pushing the message that in spite of the disagreements between the two parties, the joint press conference serves as a message of unity against Israeli annexation to the Palestinian people.
- No major protests were held in the West Bank on Wednesday 1 July, the first day in which the Israeli coalition could bring any West Bank move to the cabinet or Knesset. The Palestinian Authority (PA) decided against calling for more protests as long as annexation hasn’t happened, while Hamas has called for a violent response in the West Bank.
- There have been ongoing tensions between Hamas and Fatah since the former’s violent takeover of Gaza in 2007, which led to the separation of the two territories. Several attempts at reconciliation have failed, mainly due to Hamas’s refusal to give up its weapons.
- Analyst in Israel believe the joint event was given the go-ahead by Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the PA, because he is concerned about losing his popular legitimacy in the West Bank to Hamas, whose calls for a return to the “armed struggle” have proved popular within the Palestinian public.
- In a recent opinion poll by the Palestinian Center for Survey and Policy Research, 52 per cent of Palestinians supported “armed struggle” in response to Israel applying its law in the West Bank.
- Al-Arouri is a highly controversial figure and has a $5 million US State Department bounty on his head for orchestrating multiple acts of terrorism. He is believed to be the mastermind behind the 2014 murders of three Israeli teenagers, kidnapped and killed outside the Etzion Bloc settlement of Alon Shvut as they headed home from their yeshiva high schools.
Looking ahead: There is real concern among the Israeli security officials that any Israeli move to apply its law in the West Bank would result in a rise of violence. The meeting yesterday between Fatah and Hamas further signals that this would be the case.
- Abbas has already suspended security coordination with Israel at high-ranking levels, although the situation ground remains the same so far.
- It is unlikely that Abbas would let Hamas gain a permanent foothold in the West Bank to conduct terrorist attacks against Israel, but he might be willing to give its personnel a freer hand to operate in the territory over the annexation issue.