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Experts: Unity Deal May Allow Hamas to Take Over Palestinian National Movement

Hamas on Wednesday made a point of clearing out of the Gaza residence of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas – a move that Reuters described as “the most concrete sign yet that [the group and Abbas’s Fatah faction] are moving toward reconciliation” – amid deepening concerns among analysts that the reconciliation deal would empower Hamas at the expense of its traditional more moderate rivals. A series of indicators had in recent days seemed to converge on the conclusion that Hamas has not only halted a year-long downward spiral, but has actually begun establishing something of a foothold in the Fatah-controlled West Bank. Israeli Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, assessed on Wednesday that a joint need for international recognition is fueling the reconciliation attempts.

Abbas needs Hamas’ cooperation to make it appear that the government of the PA exists in Gaza as well. With the PA striving for international recognition, this is of supreme importance. Hamas is clearly pleased with the international stamp of approval it expects to attain with Abbas’ help…The entry ticket Abbas is providing Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the PLO enables them to compete for control of the PLO institutions and, through elections, to take the helm of the Palestinian national movement. In the 2006 parliamentary elections in the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas won an overwhelming majority. Thus Hamas sees a historic opportunity to upgrade its current status and is competing to become the exclusive representative of the Palestinian people both in Palestine and the diaspora.

Abbas and Secretary of State John Kerry have been meeting in London this week, with Abbas openly aiming to convince the top U.S. diplomat that Israel should still be expected to negotiate with the Palestinians in the aftermath of an implemented unity agreement. The position has been explicitly and repeatedly dismissed by the State Department, and a poll published this week by The Israel Project indicates that likely voters reject it by a 66%-34% margin.

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