Analysis: Palestinian threats to Arab normalization with Israel

The PA and Hamas see eye to eye on one issue only. Both are opposed to normalization with Israel.

By Khaled Abu Toameh, The Gatestone Institute

For more than 10 years now, Hamas and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction have been at war with each other. Attempts by their Arab brothers, including Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, to solve the power struggle between the two rival Palestinian groups have thus far failed and are unlikely to succeed in the foreseeable future. The gap between Hamas and Fatah remains as wide as ever: the two parties despise each other. Fatah wants to return to the Gaza Strip; Hamas says it out loud: no. Fatah wants Hamas to disarm and cede control over the Gaza Strip; Hamas says no.

On one particular issue, however, the two sides lay aside their differences and see eye to eye. When it comes to Israel, one would be hard-pressed to distinguish between Fatah and Hamas.

Both parties use the same harsh language when referring to Israel and the policies and decisions of the Israeli government. The daily statements condemning Israel that are issued separately by Hamas and Fatah sound almost identical. Both refer to Israel as the “state of occupation.” They also continue to incite Palestinians and the rest of the world against Israel by accusing it of committing “war crimes” against the Palestinians and “violating international law.”

The daily attacks on Israel by Hamas and Fatah have radicalized Palestinians to a point where many of them would not consider any form of compromise with the Jewish state.

In the past few days, the rival Palestinian parties have again found themselves in agreement — this time over what they perceive as efforts to normalize relations between Israel and some Arab countries.

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The normalization efforts there are talking about refer to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to Oman, an Arab country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel. They are also referring to the participation of Israeli athletes in a judo competition in the United Arab Emirates, another Arab country that does not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

Separate statements issued by Hamas and Fatah have strongly condemned Arab countries for “rushing” to normalize relations with Israel before the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is resolved. The statements are strikingly similar in their words and messages.

Consider, for example, what Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh had to say about the apparent rapprochement between Israel and some Arab countries. On October 29, Haniyeh was quoted as saying:

“All the attempts at normalization won’t change the reality. There is no place for the [Israeli] enemy on the map. The people are sending an angry message to all those who are normalizing [with Israel].”

A statement issued by Haniyeh’s Hamas movement went as far as denouncing the normalization efforts as a “stab in the back of the Palestinians.” The statement accused the Arabs who are engaged in various forms of dialogue with Israel of “abandoning the Palestinians and their just cause.”

‘No room’ for Israel on the map

In other words, Hamas is implying that any Arab leader who establishes relations with Israel will be seen as a traitor to the Palestinians and their cause. Haniyeh is brutally honest as to why he and Hamas oppose any form of normalization with Israel; it is because they believe there’s “no room” for Israel on the map. In their eyes, Israel has no right to exist and should be replaced with an Islamic state, where Jews would be welcome to live as a minority.

Hamas’s rivals in Fatah have taken a similar stance towards the warming of relations between Israel and some Arab countries. A number of senior Fatah officials, including Munir al-Jaghoob and Mohammed Shtayyeh, have condemned Oman for hosting Netanyahu. They have also condemned the UAE for allowing Israelis to participate in the judo competition.

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“Fatah condemns the public normalization between Israel and some Arab countries,” al-Jaghoub commented. He went on to claim that Netanyahu’s visit to Oman was part of US President Donald Trump’s yet-to-be-announced plan for peace in the Middle East. Palestinians believe that Trump’s plan, which no one in the Middle East has seen so far, envisages the establishment of peace treaties between Israel and the Arab countries before the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is resolved.

Hamas and Fatah are opposed to normalization between Israel and the Arab countries because they are afraid that their Arab brothers will abandon them. The two Palestinian rival parties fear that once the Arabs sign peace treaties with Israel, they (the Arabs) will forget about the Palestinians and focus on bringing prosperity and stability to the Arab countries.

Palestinians play the victim card

The Palestinians seek to continue holding the Arab world hostage to their own unrealistic demands. They do not want to see the Arab countries move forward and build a better future for their people. This tactic, which has worked for the past seven decades, is apparently about to become less useful as one Arab country after the other opens its doors to Israeli leaders, politicians and athletes.

Hamas and Fatah seem to want to play the victim card to the bitter end. They have long claimed to be victims of Israel. Now they are seeking to convince the world that the Palestinians are victims of some kind of an Israeli-American conspiracy to make peace with Israel. In the world of the Palestinians, peace between Israel and the Arab countries is tantamount to treason, a conspiracy concocted by Israel and the U.S. administration.

Instead of welcoming the warming up of relations between Israel and some Arab countries as a positive development that brings hope and optimism to the Middle East, the rulers of Hamas and Fatah are busy condemning and inciting against Arabs who “collaborate” with Israel. The condemnations and incitement sound a great deal like threats directed towards Arab heads of state and governments who want to do business with Israel. These threats will undoubtedly have a negative impact on some of the Arab countries that will see them as blackmail by the Palestinians.

When Hamas and Fatah call on the “Arab street” to voice its opposition to the normalization efforts with Israel, they are actually urging the people in the Arab countries to revolt against their leaders and governments. It is hard to see how any Arab leader will remain idle in the face of the Palestinian threats and denunciations.

Acting against their own interests

The Palestinians are once again acting against their own interests by alienating powerful and wealthy countries such as the UAE and Oman. Hamas and Fatah are indeed leading their people towards an certain end: isolation and extremism. So, Fatah and Hamas cannot agree to pay their workers, they cannot agree on supplying electricity to the Gaza Strip, and they cannot agree on providing medical supplies to hospitals there. They do agree, however, on inflicting more harm and damage on their people. If they go on like this, the day will come when the Palestinians will discover that their friends and brothers have become their biggest enemies.

Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.