On Wednesday, representatives of Fatah and Hamas, the two main Palestinian factions, announced in Cairo that they had suddenly reached a reconciliation agreement. The emerging deal, which calls for the establishment of a Palestinian unity government to pave the way for elections within a year, has a lot to do with the Palestinians' drive to gain the U.N. General Assembly's backing this September for the establishment of an independent state.
But the world should not cheer this bargain. Although the agreement may solve some of the short-term problems of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's statehood drive, it will create larger problems that promise to doom the plan to irrelevancy -- and make a historic peace agreement with Israel far less likely.
Abbas's plan suffers from a fundamental misconception -- that the General Assembly has any authority to decide about the existence of new states. In fact, the assembly only has the power to make a non-binding recommendation to the world community that a Palestinian state should be established; Abbas would then have to actually declare a state and, by doing so, set the stage for gaining formal recognition by the major powers of the world.
What are the outlines of the new Palestinian state Abbas is hoping the international community will endorse? By all accounts, Abbas would like a U.N. resolution to delimit the borders of his new Palestinian state; in this context, he will seek control not only of the entire West Bank but the Gaza Strip as well. However, since Hamas's violent takeover in 2007, Abbas has been powerless in Gaza -- a fact that has complicated international recognition of Abbas's authority. Presumably, Abbas hopes to address that problem by merging Hamas with his Ramallah-based government.
But Abbas's reconciliation with Hamas contains more risks than it does advantages. Hamas is designated as an international terrorist organization not only by Israel, but also by Canada, the European Union, and the United States. Moreover, it serves as a proxy force for Iran, which provides Hamas with funding, training, and weapons. So even though the Palestinians can always depend on the Non-Aligned Movement bloc for 120 or 130 General Assembly votes, these facts will imperil the Palestinians' ability to gain the backing of major Western powers, including the EU countries.
Since coming to power in the 2006 Palestinian legislative elections, Hamas has steadfastly refused to accept the conditions of the Quartet -- the Middle East contact group that includes the United States, the U.N., the EU, and Russia -- for becoming part of the diplomatic process: renouncing violence, recognizing Israel's right to exist, and accepting past agreements. Mahmoud al-Zahar, the senior Hamas leader who participated in the Hamas-Fatah talks, clarified after the agreement was reached: "Our program does not include negotiations with Israel or recognizing it." As recently as April 17, Hamas's military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, reminded its supporters on its website: "We are going on the path of jihad." Hamas's intractability will no doubt jeopardize European diplomatic support for the Palestinian statehood drive, as well as financial assistance for any Palestinian government in which Hamas plays a role.