The balmy air of the Arab spring seems to have spread far beyond the countries in which it began and has become a game-changer even in regions beset by seemingly intractable problems. The May 4 accord between Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas could mean that a two-State solution may not be far in the offing. The agreement comes after a four-year feud between the two factions — Hamas controls Gaza and Fatah the West Bank. This coming together of Hamas, which sticks to its guns on the armed struggle against Israel, and the more moderate Fatah could spell problems but also many possibilities.
The problems lie with two issues, that of the Israel-Palestine security cooperation, which was only with Fatah, and whether donor countries will give the Palestinian interim government funds when Hamas refuses to recognise Israel. But both Fatah and Hamas have realised that the Palestinian people do not want disunity anymore and that they are in a better position to bargain for statehood on a united platform. For Fatah, this means that it regains a foothold in Gaza from where it has been kept out by Hamas for years. The Hamas has read the signals in the spring air that its ally, some say mentor, Syria is in deep trouble with its internal protests and that it can do business with a caretaker government in Egypt, which has indicated that it will loosen its grip on the Gaza border. The ousted president Hosni Mubarak had ensured that the Egypt-Gaza border was shut off causing considerable hardship to the people in the latter area.
The question that now arises is whether Hamas will influence Fatah more than the latter will influence the former. All indications suggest that Hamas has toned down, perhaps due to sheer pragmatism rather than conviction and it has seen that power is not always wrested through violence as demonstrated in Egypt and Tunisia. Israel, however, has reacted in a needlessly negative manner. Prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu has demonstrated a closed mind in asking Fatah to chose either Israel or Hamas as its peace partner. It is not an either or situation. Mr Netanyahu has in past cited Palestinian disunity as an obstacle to peace. Now, that unity has come about, he seems to be singing another tune. He ought to confine his negotiations with Fatah and leave it to its leader Mahmoud Abbas to bring Hamas on board. Hamas’ recognition of Israel will come, presumably, when a two-State solution is within sight. The opportunities that the fall-out of the Arab spring have bought must be seized now, else who knows what is in store when the season changes.