Palestinian Factions Come Together To Form Unity Government, But What Does This Mean For Israel?

In a resounding victory for diplomacy, rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah announced on Wednesday that they had reached an agreement to form a unity government in Palestine in order to prepare for the impending elections. This comes after nearly seven years of disagreements and operating under disparate administrations. At a press conference, leaders of both groups agreed that internal conflict had come in the way of the Palestinian goal of establishing an autonomous state, which they hope to accomplish with a unified government.

The two groups split in 2006 when Hamas, the militant Islamist group deemed a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union, won parliamentary elections and removed Fatah leaders, thereby setting up a rival government.

But after years of estrangement, the two Palestinian groups have made a peace with one another, with Ismail Haniya, the prime minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, saying at a press conference, “I announce to our people the news that the years of split are over.” Azzam al-Ahmed, the Fatah delegation head, echoed these sentiments, and said that he hoped the agreement would be "a true beginning for a true partnership in all our spectrums; political, social and societal."

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And while Palestinian reconciliation with itself may be cause to celebrate, it does raise an important question for their relationship with Israel, which remains rocky, at best. The United States has attempted to arrange a peace deal between Israel and Palestine with little success, and with the April 29 deadline looming, it seems that Palestine's decision to reunite itself with anti-Israeli Hamas might further destabilize already shaky conditions.

Haniya of Hamas said in a conference that "the entire city of Jerusalem has been painted Jewish with an attempt to wipe out the Arab identity and desecrate the Muslim and Christian sanctities," making no secret of his feelings for Israel. Before Wednesday's announcement, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a leader of Fatah, against brokering deals with Hamas. Said Netanyahu in a press conference,

Does he want peace with Hamas, or peace with Israel? You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace. So far he hasn’t done so.

As Palestine reaches peace deals within itself, one can only hope that it does not result in an outbreak of violence with Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu has already reacted, saying that Palestinian leaders have "chosen Hamas over peace. Whoever chooses Hamas does not want peace."

The United States, also growing wary of potential violence, told Haaretz that the unity government will only be recognized under certain conditions. Said a senior U.S. official,

We have been clear about the principles that must guide a Palestinian government in order for it to play a constructive role in achieving peace and building an independent Palestinian state. Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties, including the Roadmap. President Abbas has been committed to these principles.