Fatah and Hamas

The Atlantic recently asked a group of foreign-policy authorities about the struggle in the Palestinian territories.

What is the likelihood of two separate, self-governing Palestinian territories, one ruled by Hamas in Gaza and the other by Fatah in the West Bank, emerging from the current conflict in Palestine?
45% Highly unlikely

“Gaza under Hamas and the West Bank under Fatah is, I think, an unstable equilibrium. So I think it is not likely that that is what will emerge over the long term from the current conflict.”

“The viability of one state in the Palestinian territories is questionable. Two states with smaller populations and no economic base are unfathomable.”

“The West Bank and Gaza together constitute a minimally viable state; if separated, neither is likely to succeed.”

“…at least over the longer haul.”

“Two separate territories administered by rival parties would create an inherently unstable environment. It might be a transitional phenomenon, but not a stable long-term condition.”

“…however, this might emerge for a short period of time.”

“The paradox is that only Hamas has (electoral) legitimacy in most Palestinians' eyes; but Gaza is not a self-sustainable entity. Conversely the West Bank—or what remains after Israeli chopping, slicing, dicing and filtering—is the heart of Palestinian identity (together with Jerusalem) and the only credible basis for a durable Palestinian entity. But it is ruled by the remnant of a largely discredited and corrupt Fatah oligarchy.”

36% Somewhat likely

“This will be a temporary situation; over time the two structures will consolidate.”

“It's hard to imagine Israel accepting two separate states if there's any way they can avoid it—but they may not be able to do so.”

“The internal Palestinian conflict is still in its infancy. Ultimately, the outcome will depend on whether and how the different factions can deliver for the Palestinian people. For a while, though, two separate entitites, ruled by separate political forces, will be the most likely outcome.”

18% Highly unlikely

“Neither Fatah nor Hamas can accept to run half of a diminutive State of Palestine; the battle will continue.”

“The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. They are perhaps the worst governed people in the Middle East, and that is saying something.”

“Two separate entities already have emerged from the current conflict. This does not mean, however, that such a situation is stable over the long term or ever will obtain de jure status.”

How should the United States approach the current situation in the Palestinian territories?
50% Work to engage and unite the two

“The U.S. and other countries need to pour money into the West Bank, to show there is an alternative in people's lives to the Hamas welfare state. Money should also be poured into Gaza through NGO channels (as should have been done, but wasn't, from the time that Sharon decided to withdraw from Gaza). Abbas should be pressed to reform his government; Israel should stop all settlement activity, release the rest of the PLA tax money it is withholding, and negotiate with Abbas a sensible route for the security barrier that minimizes separation of Palestinian villages and families. The U.S. (and the Quartet) should broaden Blair's mandate to include political issues or put in its own very high level negotiator (not just the Secretary of State episodically), and demonstrate that getting peace for Israel and a state for the Palestinians is an urgent priority, in our self-interest.”

“The U.S. made a grave error in keeping Hamas at arms length after its election victory. This has driven it into the embrace of Iran and other radical influences. A better approach would have been to accept its victory and engaged it with the aim of altering its policy toward Israel and bringing Hamas and Fatah together.”

“Isolating Hamas has failed and will continue to fail. Especially since its recent success in freeing the BBC journalist (something Fatah failed to even attempt, much less achieve), Hamas has growing credibility in Arab eyes. Separating the two halves of Palestine may be the Israeli strategy (myopic and cynical); but if the US adopts it for its own we shall just further weaken our standing in the region and be treated as a pawn of Likud.”

“Both Hamas and Fatah represent significant strains of Palestinian opinion and neither one will melt away, no matter how much either one is bloodied in street fighting. There will not be a clear victor. The 'two-state solution' of separate entities in Gaza and the West Bank reflects current reality and is a tempting basis on which to try to mount a new effort at building Palestinian institutions. An impoverished and isolated Hamastan in Gaza would be inherently unstable, however. A Hamas that is denied its goal of contending for power over all Palestinians also would still be a disruptive force in the West Bank.”

“…but this requires very skillful diplomacy and will be extremely difficult.”

“We should engage both, but I seriously doubt we can resolve the dispute and unite the factions. They have a struggle ahead and our uneven involvement will only distort the outcome.”

“The engagement of the U.S. and the international community is key to preventing the Palestinian territories from slipping further into chaos and violence.”

“Unity is unlikely, but engagement may produce some foundation that allows further work.”

“U.S. interests are clearly served by bringing both sides together, with Saudi and Egyptian help, leading to a deal—interim or full—with Israel.”

25% Treat Hamas and Fatah as two separate governments

“We should help Fatah to discredit and defeat Hamas, including by sanctions against those who help Hamas. Qatar, for example, is heavily funding Hamas and is paying no price for that policy.”

“The Palestinian civil war is going to be decided by the Palestinians.  Washington doesn't have the standing to influence the outcome--at least not in a direction that favors U.S. Interests.”

“Engage supportively with Fatah as a separate legitimate government, and Hamas as a breakaway entity with no legitimate status.”

“I’d stress ties with Fatah and keep lines of communications open to Hamas through the EU, and see if Fatah can remain viable.”

“The United States should treat Abbas as the sole legitimate representative of all the peoples in the Palestinian territories. Hamas's 'victory' in Gaza represents an insurrection, not the emergence of a government or legitimate entity.”

“Support Fatah as long as Fatah commits to reform/anti-corruption.”

16% Wait until a clear victor emerges

“It would be morally easy to say support Fatah; easy and terribly wrong. The U.S. has done far too much of picking winners and losers in the world recently; rather, it is up to the Palestinian people to choose an interlocutor, however flawed. Only then can any sort of peace deal stick, as it would be based on local legitimacy, and not whom the West prefers.”

“Leave it alone. Let the conflict burn itself out. Interference delays the process.”

7%Treat Fatah as a legitimate government and isolate Hamas (submitted independently by respondents)

“Engage supportively with Fatah as a separate legitimate government, and Hamas as a breakaway entity with no legitimate standing.”

“The U.S. should not do any of your three options, in my view.  We have an interest in the defeat of Hamas.”

PARTICIPANTS (44): Graham Allison, Ronald Asmus, Samuel Berger, Daniel Blumenthal, Max Boot, Stephen Bosworth, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Daniel Byman, Warren Christopher, Wesley Clark, Richard Clarke, Ivo Daalder, Lawrence Eagleburger, Douglas Feith, Jay Garner, Leslie Gelb, Marc Grossman, John Hamre, Gary Hart, Bruce Hoffman, Laura Holgate, John Hulsman, Robert Hunter, Tony Judt, David Kay, Andrew Krepinevich, Charles Kupchan, John Lehman, James Lindsay, Edward Luttwak, Jessica Mathews, John McLaughlin, Richard Myers, William Nash, Joseph Nye, Carlos Pascual, Thomas Pickering, Paul Pillar, Kenneth Pollack, Joseph Ralston, Wendy Sherman, Anne Marie Slaughter, James Steinberg, Anthony Zinni.

Because of rounding, totals do not always add up to 100%.