Palestinian Authority [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas has once again surprised Israel and the U.S. Administration, this time by signing a "reconciliation" agreement with Hamas.
On April 23, Abbas dispatched a high-level delegation of PLO officials to the Gaza Strip to sign the "historic" deal with Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
The deal calls for the formation of a Palestinian unity government, headed by Abbas, within five weeks.
Six months after the creation of the new government, according to the agreement, the Palestinians would hold presidential and parliamentary elections.
Abbas's decision to join forces with Hamas is seen as a tactical move aimed at putting pressure on Israel and the U.S. to accept his conditions for extending the peace talks after their April 29 deadline.
Despite the signing ceremony, however, held at the home of Haniyeh, the gap between Abbas's Fatah faction and Hamas remains as wide as ever.
There are no indications whatsoever that, as a result of the rapprochement with Fatah, Hamas is about to change its ideology or abandon terrorism.
Nor is there any sign that Hamas is willing to allow the Palestinian Authority security forces to return to the Gaza Strip, which fell into the hands of the Islamist movement in 2007.
Hamas leaders and spokesmen have made it clear that the "reconciliation" agreement does not mean that Hamas will abandon the path of terrorism to achieve its goals. "The option of negotiations has failed," said Ra'fat Murra, a Hamas official in Lebanon. "Palestinian resistance remains the right option."
Ibrahim Hamami, a Palestinian writer closely associated with Hamas, said he does not believe that a reconciliation with "Israel's agents" [Abbas and the PA] is possible. "There should be no meetings or reconciliation with the traitors and collaborators," he said.
This week's "reconciliation" agreement is not about ending the Hamas-Fatah dispute so much as it is about exerting pressure on the Israeli government and the U.S. Administration.
Neither Hamas nor Fatah is interested in sharing power or sitting in the same government.
The "reconciliation" agreement is just the latest in a series of moves taken by Abbas since the eruption of the crisis in the peace talks a few weeks ago. Abbas's moves started with the application to join 15 international treaties, and continued with threats to resign and dissolve the Palestinian Authority.
These moves, like the "reconciliation" agreement with Hamas, have all caught Israel and the U.S. Administration by surprise.
Abbas has concluded that the U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, is so desperate to achieve a peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis that he will be willing to do almost anything to salvage the peace process.
Abbas apparently did not feel that the U.S. Administration was completely opposed to his decision to file requests to join 15 international treaties. Nor, apparently, did he sense a serious response from Washington to his threats to resign and dismantle the Palestinian Authority.
That is why he has now decided to put the U.S. Administration to the test by signing a "historic" agreement with Hamas — one that Abbas himself knows is unlikely to materialize.
Abbas does not seem worried at all over Israel's decision to suspend the peace talks with the Palestinian Authority. In fact, he was expecting a harsh response from Israel. But he knows that Israel's measures would be limited and that Israel has no interest in bringing about the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.
He would be far more worried if the U.S. Administration actually came out in full force against the agreement with Hamas. Abbas's biggest fear is that the U.S. will cut off financial aid to the Palestinian Authority and work toward isolating him, as the Bush Administration did to Yasser Arafat in 2002.
Also, Abbas wants the U.S. to continue to play the role of the major mediator in the conflict with Israel because he is aware that neither the Europeans nor the Russians nor the Chinese will be able to replace American sponsorship.
Abbas is convinced that it is only a matter of time before Kerry or top U.S. diplomats rush to Ramallah to try to persuade him not to make peace with Hamas.
Abbas seems to be enjoying that each time he does something dramatic, the U.S. Administration launches another big diplomatic offensive to convince him to backtrack. In a way, he appears to be enjoying humiliating the largest superpower. Abbas wants his people and the Arabs to see him as hero who can stand up to the Americans.
Abbas is now waiting to see what the U.S. Administration will offer him in return for rescinding his plan to join forces with Hamas. When this happens, Abbas will most probably come up with new demands and conditions, just as he has been doing during these past few weeks.