In truth, it is not clear that events in Cairo substantiate either interpretation of events. Fatah may still be stronger than Hamas. It may steal elections. And it may be capable of militarily defeating the jihadist movement if it decides to do so. On the other hand, it is possible both sides feel they get more out of negotiating than they do out of implementing a deal and will therefore continue negotiating and fail to implement anything.
While these talks tell us less than meets the eye about the relative strength or options of Fatah and Hamas, they do tell us something important about the nature of Abbas and the organization he heads. The Cairo unity talks show us that Fatah lacks all credibility as a political or strategic force. Fatah is in the business of staying in business. Fatah leaders will tell everyone precisely what they want to hear in order to keep their hands on the levers of power and finance. They are equal opportunity liars.
Just as they did in May, today in Cairo Fatah negotiators are telling Hamas they will dump Fayyad and join Hamas’s terror war against Israel. They are promising Hamas international legitimacy and partnership in PLO institutions. They are promising Hamas a cut in the international aid scam they have been running since 1994.
It makes perfect sense for Abbas to be doing this. Not only was Fatah weakened by its failure to gain UN membership as a sovereign member state, but Hamas has been strengthened by the Egyptian revolution that has empowered its allies and brethren in the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas’s military arsenal has grown massively since Egypt’s military junta opened the border between Gaza and the Sinai in March. The open border has enabled Hamas to import, at will, sophisticated weaponry from Libya through Egypt to the Gaza Strip.
Politically, U.S. support for the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood as well as for Islamist Turkey and the new Islamic governments in Tunisia and Libya has strengthened Hamas’s credibility in the West without connection to Fatah.
So Abbas’s interest in negotiating a deal with Hamas is clear. At the same time, implementing a deal with Hamas will take away Abbas’s ability to leverage the threat of cutting a deal with Hamas against the U.S., the EU and Israel. And so he probably won’t implement it. (Obviously if he does implement it, Abu Toameh’s conclusions will be proven correct.)
What this means is that in the best case scenario, Abbas is negotiating a deal with Hamas in order to extort more concessions from Israel and more money from the U.S. and Europe.
But it also means that in the best case scenario, Abbas feels compelled to negotiate with Hamas because Hamas is so strong. And since Hamas is so strong, there is no way Abbas will ever make peace with Israel. This means Israel, the U.S. and the EU get nothing from the concessions they make in order to keep Abbas from implementing a unity deal with Hamas.
In a recent blog post analyzing Abbas’s Hamas unity bid, Jonathan Tobin, Commentary’s senior online editor, wrote that President Obama must respond to the Fatah-Hamas talks by telling Abbas that “if he dumps Fayyad, he will lose every penny of the hundreds of millions of dollars he gets from the U.S. annually and that Washington will work to cut off every other avenue of aid.”
No doubt such a statement by Obama would make an impression on Abbas. But the basic realities will remain unchanged. Abbas is never going to make peace with Israel because his people don’t want peace. He will use his opposition to Hamas to coerce the U.S. and the EU to fund him and Israel to appease him. Abbas cannot defeat Hamas because the political tides in the Arab world are with Hamas and because a significant portion of the Palestinians support Hamas. These are the facts. Neither reconciliation with Hamas nor non-reconciliation with Hamas will change them.