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‘Zero-Sum Game’: PA Leader Abbas and Hamas Chief Haniyeh Come Together in Rare Meeting in Algeria

avatar by Sharon Wrobel

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh speaking during his visit to the Ain el Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Sidon, Lebanon. Photo: Reuters/Aziz Taher

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh met on Tuesday for the first time in six years, reportedly at the request of Algeria’s President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

The leaders of Hamas and the Fatah Party were taking part in celebrations in Algeria marking the country’s 60th independence anniversary. In photos circulated on Algerian and Palestinian media outlets, the two rivals were seen shaking hands under Tebboune’s gaze. The two leaders last met face-to-face in Doha, Qatar in 2016.

“This can be viewed as a historic event as the last time the two bitter adversaries met was six years ago,” Kobi Michael, a senior research fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. “At the same time, the meeting was forced on Abbas and Haniyeh by Tebboune under the title of ‘reconciliation efforts,’ to position Algeria vis-à-vis the US, Europe, and Africa as someone who can contribute to talks between the sides.”

Algeria launched an initiative a few months ago to mediate between Palestinian factions and Tuesday’s meeting was likely a result of those efforts, according to Joe Truzman, an analyst at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (FDD).

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“While it was somewhat surprising seeing Haniyeh and Abbas together, it’s unlikely anything significant came out of their meeting,” Truzman told The Algemeiner. “There are many obstacles to overcome before legitimate reconciliation can be considered between Fatah and Hamas.”

The political struggle between the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority and Hamas goes back to 2007, when the Islamist organization violently took over the Gaza Strip following Fatah’s loss in parliamentary elections a year before.

“For Hamas this is a great achievement to be put on an equal level with Fatah, and will dramatically strengthen its standing, while for Fatah and Abbas it is a disaster, and likely to weaken its position,” Michael commented. “The idea that Hamas and Fatah, two camps that are fighting each other and belong to opposite sides, can reconcile is detached from reality.”

In view of recent polls, which indicate that around 80 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank want Abbas to resign from the presidential post he has held since 2005, Michael said that the prospect of reconciliation looks very slim. A poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip published at the end of June showed that support shifted to Hamas ahead of Fatah, the PLO’s main nationalist faction. The survey, conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), revealed that 33 percent of Palestinians believe that Hamas should be leading the Palestinian struggle, with only 23 percent opting for Fatah under Abbas.

“There is no reason for Hamas to reconcile,” remarked Michael, a former deputy director general and head of the Palestinian desk at Israel’s Ministry for Strategic Affairs. “This is a zero-sum game.”


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