Fatah, Hamas Reach Deal To End Rivalry

The infighting between rival Palestinian groups has been going on for years. On Wednesday, members of Hamas and Fatah reached an agreement on reuniting their governments in the West Bank and Gaza.

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And now let's follow up on a so-called breakthrough on a long-running rivalry between the two leading Palestinian factions. Fatah and Hamas say they have reached an agreement that will ultimately help unite Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. But there is skepticism over whether this agreement will hold. NPR's Jackie Northam has this report from Hamas-held territory, the Gaza Strip.

JACKIE NORTHAM: The deal between Fatah and Hamas was hammered out during secret negotiations in Cairo with the help of Egyptian intelligence. The agreement calls for, among other things, creating a single caretaker government made up of technocrats and professionals and setting a date for general elections.

Salah Bardawil, a spokesman for Hamas, says there are several reasons the two sides went to the negotiating table. He says the division between Fatah and Hamas was creating hardships for Palestinians, their lives, jobs, their social networks. Bardawil suggests that unhappiness could lead to the sort of uprisings seen in other parts of the Arab world.

Mr. SALAH AL-BARDAWIL (Spokesman for Hamas): (Through Translator) People, even those who support Hamas, are fed up with this division. And because of this they went out to demonstrate to try to end it. And we've listened to them, and that's why all the efforts now are in reply to their demands.

NORTHAM: The deal between the two rivals would go a long way towards uniting Palestinians. But pessimism runs deep here in the Gaza Strip and in the West Bank. There have been other similar deals that have unraveled before the ink was dry.

The problem is a profound breach between the two sides that intensified after the 2006 parliamentary elections. Hamas, a militant Islamist organization, won the vote. But Fatah, a secularist movement, refused to give up power. They became consumed in a vicious power struggle, and for the past four years, Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority, has been in charge of the West Bank. Hamas rules the Gaza Strip. Mkhaimar Abu Sada, a political analyst with Gaza's Al-Azhar University, says he just doesn't see Fatah and Hamas coming together, especially on the security issue.

Dr. MKHAIMAR ABU SADA (Political Analyst, Al-Azhar University): Hamas is very much convinced that Fatah and the security apparatus connected with Fatah are collaborating with Israel. They do not trust them. You think the security apparatus here in Gaza will mix Fatah and Hamas people in the same security service? There is no way that can happen.

NORTHAM: Sada says what could happen is Hamas and Fatah form a joint government, but each would control the turf it has now. That could present a unified face for the Palestinian people, which in turn could help tackle the larger problem of Arab-Israeli peace.

But the news of the Palestinian deal was met with concern by both the U.S. and Israel, which consider Hamas a terrorist organization. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned the Palestinian Authority that it had to choose between peace with Israel or peace with Hamas.

Jackie Northam, NPR News, in the Gaza Strip.

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