IMGXYZ1487IMGZYXAs Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice travels to the Middle East this week for another round of negotiations in the Israeli–Palestinian peace process, deep divisions and institutional decay on the Palestinian side remain the most daunting obstacles to peace. Ongoing Palestinian unity talks brokered by Egypt have little chance of success without a significant international push, concludes a new commentary by Nathan J. Brown. 

Divided Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have little incentive to reach an agreement, despite widespread regional and Palestinian support for the talks. Hamas remains focused on building a party-state within Gaza, while Fatah sees little benefit in sharing power with a movement that would likely overwhelm it.

Key Conclusions:

  • Fatah remains deeply dependent on its international allies for legitimacy and financial support. Strong European and U.S. support for Palestinian reconciliation would be difficult for Fatah’s leaders to resist, but requires a reversal of current Western policy.
  • Egypt has capitalized on both sides’ deep dependence on it to ensure their participation in the talks. It could further persuade Hamas to reach an agreement by leveraging the organization’s economic dependence on the Gaza–Egyptian border and offering an end to Hamas’ economic isolation.
  • January 2009 looms as an ominous deadline. Hamas has repeatedly indicated that it will no longer recognize Mahmoud Abbas as president after January 2009, recognizing instead its own Ahmad Bahar—leaving Palestinians with two presidents.

Brown concludes:

“It is not clear if any of the international actors with cards to play feel they have enough to gain from Palestinian reconciliation. And absent any concerted effort to bring full pressure on both Gaza and Ramallah, it is likely that the current division will continue. Actually, the division will likely deepen. In January 2009, the institutional and legal rupture between the West Bank and Gaza could become nearly complete, with Hamas claiming untrammeled authority in Gaza.”