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Palestinian Rivals Unite against Israeli Annexation Plan

Fatah, Hamas hold joint news conference, though analysts say any reconciliation is temporary

The two largest Palestinian factions pledged on Thursday to work together to thwart Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank in line with US President Donald Trump’s peace deal.

Officials of Fatah, which rules the Palestinian-run sections of the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, held a rare joint news conference, saying they had set aside their differences to fight Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s plan, which has not yet been finalized.

The two Palestinian groups have been at odds since the Islamist movement expelled Fatah from Gaza in a bloody takeover that led to a major rift between the two for more than a decade.

“Today, we want to speak in a single voice,” said senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub at a press conference held during a video-link with Saleh al-Arouri, widely considered Hamas’s second in command and its military leader for the West Bank. Arouri was speaking from Beirut.

Today, we want to speak in a single voice

Yet Ghassan Khatib, a political science lecturer at Birzeit University in the West Bank, thinks it unlikely that the two sides will bridge their differences.

“We still don’t know whether this meeting will be followed by substantive reconciliation measures or not,” he told The Media Line.

“I doubt this very much because we had several similar meetings and promises of reconciliation that were not substantiated later,” he noted. “So most probably there isn’t going to be a real reconciliation.”

Khatib believes that Thursday’s display of unity concerns only annexation.

“The timing of this media meeting between a Hamas leader and a Fatah leader is related mainly to Israel’s declaration that it intends to consolidate the illegal occupation by annexing part of the West Bank,” he stated.

“I think this meeting’s goal,” he said, “is to send the message to Palestinians, Israelis and the world that Palestinians, despite their many differences, are unified in rejecting and vowing to resist any Israeli attempt to annex parts of the West Bank.”

The joint news conference, nevertheless, is yet another sign that relations between the factions might be improving. On Wednesday, Fatah officials in the Gaza Strip were invited to an anti-annexation rally organized by Hamas and other Palestinian groups.

Eli Nesan, an Israeli political analyst and expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, told The Media Line that Thursday’s show of unity was an effort to appease angry Palestinians who think the split between the two groups harms the Palestinian cause.

“The reconciliation effort that we see… is artificial,” he said. “There were dozens of meetings between Hamas and Fatah representatives trying to reconcile, and all these attempts were unsuccessful.”

Arouri insisted during the video conference that the two groups would set aside their differences to oppose annexation.

“We must stand together, again and again, loyally and truthfully, amid the ranks of our people, to resist and thwart this project,” he said. “This is an opportunity to start a new phase that will be a strategic service to our people in these most dangerous times.”

We must stand together, again and again, loyally and truthfully, amid the ranks of our people, to resist and thwart this project. This is an opportunity to start a new phase that will be a strategic service to our people in these most dangerous times

Rajoub concurred, downplaying the deep divide.

“We will put in place all necessary measures to ensure national unity,” he said.

Yet Nesan, like Khatib, believes the thaw is temporary.

“Hamas is the true enemy of Fatah, and if the Fatah movement or the Palestinian Authority shows any weakened position in the Gaza Strip, Hamas would [come to] dominate the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority,” he said.

“I heard Jibril Rajoub describe Israel as the enemy of the Palestinian Authority,” he continued. “The real enemy of the Palestinian Authority is Hamas, not Israel.”

Palestinians have been mobilizing against the Trump Administration’s peace proposal – derisively referred to as the “deal of the century,” since it was introduced in late January. The plan paves the way for Israel to annex territory in the West Bank, including Israeli settlements, which much of the world says are illegal under international law.

Palestinian officials have threatened to cancel bilateral agreements with Israel if it goes ahead with annexation, saying the move would kill the two-state solution.

Ayman Odeh, head of Israel’s Joint List of Arab political parties, attended the news conference in Ramallah, saying he was there to support Palestinian reconciliation. But Nesan feels that Odeh’s participation showed that the Joint List parties had “removed themselves” from the mainstream of Israeli society.

“If Ayman really wanted to protest the annexation, he could have joined left-wing Israeli organizations’ protests and demonstrations,” the analyst noted. “But he sits with the representative of Hamas, who calls for the elimination of the State of Israel. I think this step crossed all red lines.”