Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday said he is willing to visit the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip for the first time since 2007 in an effort to promote reconciliation between the rival factions and form a united government one day after Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza, invited Abbas to the Strip. Abbas also announced he will not run for president in the next Palestinian elections, which he wants scheduled within six months.
The new push for reconciliation is seemingly the Palestinian leadership’s response to the wave of protests gripping the Arab world. Abbas’ announcement comes just one day after tens of thousands of Palestinians demonstrated in the Gaza Strip and West Bank on Tuesday in support of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah.
And yet, a real reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah at this time hardly seems possible.
Palestinians wave Hamas flags during a rally in Gaza supporting an end to Palestinian divisions, March 4, 2011.
Witnesses on the ground at Tuesday’s rally of 100,000 in Gaza City reported that Hamas confiscated the Palestinian flag and has launched a general campaign to confiscate Palestinian flags raised on facilities and houses in the Gaza Strip. On Tuesday, the remaining protesters at sundown were violently dispersed by Hamas, when the organization decided the event was to end. And according to reports, on Wednesday, Hamas forces beat university students heading to another protest in support of a unity government. So far, Hamas has refused to take part in the elections President Abbas called for last month.
While Haniyeh has said he supports reconciliation, this hardly sounds like a group willing to do so. And why would it? Reconciliation would mean holding Palestinian elections and risk losing control over the Gaza Strip, the region Hamas has used since 2007 to build-up its weapons arsenal and promote Hamas’ Islamist objectives.