Family quarrels can be nasty affairs, and the seven-year tiff between Fatah and Hamas has been no exception. In the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections, Hamas won a decisive majority in the parliament, much to the chagrin of the then ruling PLO-affiliated Fatah party. Encouraged by Israel, the U.S., and western nations generally, Fatah refused to co-operate with the democratically elected parliament, and the two sides descended into bitter, often lethal, infighting. The result was a Hamas-run Gaza and a Fatah-run West Bank.
Various attempts to patch up the divisions failed. Until now. After seven years of bitter rivalry, the two factions have formed a unified government. The 17-member cabinet, mostly unaffiliated technocrats, was sworn in on Monday.
Israel's prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has predictably stated he will not negotiate with a government backed by Hamas. However, his closest allies are not meekly falling in line as they are usually wont to do. The United States says it will work with the new government and even Canada, Israel’s poodle, has quietly agreed to deal with the new government if it “renounces terrorism and recognizes Israel’s right to exist.” It has done both. Turkey, a supporter of the Hamas government in Gaza, was the first to recognize the unity government. China, India, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations have all followed suit.
The Palestinians, victims of dispossession and oppression for three generations, can only gain from presenting a united front. Israel, naturally preferring to divide and rule, may refuse to negotiate with the new government, but then there are no negotiations taking place at the moment anyway, and those that have taken place over the last many years have been a failure. Indeed, the very idea of negotiations between an overwhelmingly powerful occupier and an essentially powerless occupied can offer little more than terms of surrender.
For the immediate future, the Palestinians will be better served by pursuing greater recognition in the international community, building up their strength and bargaining power. A unified leadership is important to that endeavour.