In the latest sign that Hamas is serious about mending fences with its Fatah party rivals, the terrorist group announced on Saturday it would give Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas his Gaza villa back. Hamas seized the building during the bloody 2007 coup in which the Islamists seized control of Gaza. But though it isn’t likely Abbas will be sleeping in his Gaza home any time soon, the goodwill gesture is meant to show Hamas is prepared to follow through on the unity pact it signed with Abbas and Fatah last year.
Hamas’s willingness to placate Abbas doesn’t mean however that the two groups have settled all their differences. Though both Fatah and Hamas don’t differ all that much about the question of peace with Israel — Abbas and the “moderates” are no more willing to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state and to live in peace with it than the Hamas extremists — both hope to use the unity pact to solidify their political ascendancy. But so long as they are moving closer toward each other, it is a given that peace with Israel is impossible.
The PA has said it would like to hold new presidential and parliamentary elections this year, but neither side will agree to a vote unless they think they are in a position to win. Winning depends not so much achieving genuine popularity but on holding the reins of power in either the West Bank and Gaza. The jockeying for position between the two groups demonstrates that any further efforts by President Obama to push Israel into territorial concessions is a waste of time. Though representatives of the PA have met recently with Israel, Fatah’s desire to avoid being labeled as the “peace” party will make any progress toward peace impossible.
Abbas’s priority is still to protect his own position and that means avoiding doing anything about peace that will allow Hamas to brand him a friend of Israel. Though he may never live in his Gaza house, its return is a reminder of Hamas’s power and ability to veto any resolution of the Middle East conflict.