• By strengthening his ties with Hamas, Abbas is burying any chance of a peaceful solution with Israel.

Despite predictions to the contrary, the unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas seems not only alive and well, but stronger than ever.

Over the past month, the two parties have been waging separate wars against Israel - one (Hamas) on the battlefield and the second (Fatah) in the international arena.

At the beginning of the war in the Gaza Strip, political analysts predicted that the unity agreement that was signed between Hamas and Fatah last April would be one of the war's first victims.

During the war, however, Fatah and Hamas refrained from criticizing each other, as they have been doing ever since they signed the unity agreement.

Palestinian Authority [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas, who is also head of Fatah, took advantage of the war to launch scathing attacks on Israel, accusing it of perpetrating war crimes and genocide.

Nonetheless, Abbas did not criticize Hamas or other Palestinian terror groups for firing rockets and mortars at Israel. Nor did he ever denounce Hamas for breaking several cease-fires with Israel.

Similarly, Hamas's top political leaders have largely refrained from criticizing Abbas or Fatah throughout the war.

True, at the beginning of the war some Hamas officials expressed discontent over the way Abbas was handling the conflict, especially regarding to his failure quickly to rally the Arab world in solidarity with the Palestinians.

On July 12, Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum criticized Abbas for requesting a postponement of an Arab League meeting to discuss the war.

But Hamas has since changed its position, particularly in light of Abbas's decision to endorse the Islamist movement's conditions for a cease-fire.

Abbas and his Fatah officials have even chosen to act as unofficial spokesmen for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, often endorsing their statements and positions.

Most of the Hamas political leaders in the Gaza Strip were unable to appear on foreign TV networks out of concern for their safety. Instead, they were replaced with senior Fatah and PLO officials who did their utmost to defend Hamas and hold Israel alone responsible for the war.

The war has also seen Abbas and Hamas work together to coordinate their moves. Last month, Abbas met in Qatar with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal to discuss a joint strategy toward the war.

Mahmoud Abbas (r) meets with the Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashaal in Qatar, July 20, 2014. (Image source: Handout from the Palestinian Authority President's Office/Thaer Ghanem)

After the meeting, the two issued a joint statement calling for an end to Israeli "aggression" and lifting the blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Prior to the meeting, some Palestinian political analysts had predicted that the encounter between the two men would be tense and difficult.

Instead, the meeting between Abbas and Mashaal turned out to be friendly, with the Hamas leader praising the PA president for his anti-Israel campaign in the international arena.

Later, Arab media outlets quoted Mashaal as saying that Abbas's endorsement of Hamas's demands for a cease-fire and his moves in the international arena, including calls for emergency meetings of the UN Security Council, would serve to solidify "national unity" between Hamas and Fatah.

As part of continued coordination between Hamas and Fatah, Abbas last week dispatched PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat to Doha for another meeting with Mashaal.

Although the declared goal of the meeting was to discuss the prospects of a cease-fire with Israel, Erekat revealed that the discussion also focused on Palestinian efforts to join the International Criminal Court in order to file "war crimes" charges against Israel.

Another sign of the coordination between Hamas and Fatah was provided earlier this week when Abbas announced the formation of a Palestinian delegation to the cease-fire talks in Cairo. For the first time, Hamas agreed to include its representatives in a delegation formed by Abbas and headed by top Fatah official, Azzam al-Ahmed.

Hamas and Fatah not only agreed on the formation of a joint delegation, they also reached agreement on a document detailing Palestinian demands for a cease-fire. If anything, the document, which was presented to the Egyptians on August 3, confirms that Abbas and Fatah have fully endorsed Hamas's conditions for a cease-fire.

The document calls for, among other things, lifting the blockade and opening all border crossings in the Gaza Strip, including the airport and seaport. It also calls for the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip in cooperation between the Hamas-Fatah government and the UN.

The document does not mention the disarming of Hamas and other Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip – a demand that appears to be backed by the US, EU, UN and some Arab countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Over the past few weeks, Abbas has done almost everything he could to demonstrate his keenness on maintaining the unity agreement with Hamas. In his public statements, Abbas repeatedly claimed that the Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip was primarily aimed at "destroying" the unity between Hamas and Fatah.

This week, Abbas took another step toward consolidating the unity agreement by agreeing to pay salaries to tens of thousands of Hamas civil servants in the Gaza Strip. Abbas had refused to pay the salaries to the Hamas civil servants, even after the signing of the unity deal and the formation of the Palestinian "national consensus" government.

The previous wars between Israel and Hamas had resulted in a deterioration in relations between Hamas and Fatah. During the past two wars, Hamas did not hesitate to accuse Abbas and Fatah of "collusion" with the "Zionist enemy."

But the current war has thus far has brought the two sides closer to one another. Abbas even instructed his security forces in the West Bank to suspend their crackdown on Hamas supporters, a senior Palestinian official in Ramallah disclosed.

Abbas is expected to continue his efforts to enhance his partnership with Hamas even after a cease-fire is reached in the Gaza Strip. This may be good for Palestinian "national unity" and Hamas, but it also means that the prospects for peace with Israel on the basis of a two-state solution – an idea vehemently opposed by Hamas – will be as remote as ever. By strengthening his ties with Hamas, Abbas is burying any chance of a peaceful solution with Israel.

  • Follow Khaled Abu Toameh on Twitter

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Related Topics:  Israel, Palestinian Authority
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