Palestinian rivals Fatah, Hamas pledge rare unity against Israeli annexation

In a rare show of cooperation, Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas pledged unity against Israel’s West Bank annexation plans in a joint press conference Thursday, as signs emerged of a rift between Israel and Washington over the project.

The relationship between Fatah, which controls the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, and Islamist terror group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, has been plagued by divisions for more than a decade.

The joint appearance was spurred by common opposition against US President Donald Trump’s controversial peace plan, which paves the way for Israel to annex all of its settlements as well as the strategic Jordan Valley, amounting to 30 percent of the West Bank.

“We will put in place all necessary measures to ensure national unity” in efforts against annexation, senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub said in Ramallah at the press conference, also addressed by Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri by video-link from Beirut.

“Today, we want to speak in a single voice,” Rajoub affirmed.

Arouri described the conference as “an opportunity to start a new phase that will be a strategic service to our people in the most dangerous stages.”

Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, attends by video conference a meeting with deputy Hamas chief Saleh Arouri (unseen) discussing Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank, on July 2, 2020. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

Hamas last month urged unity among Palestinians and “resistance” against Israeli plans to annex parts of the West Bank.

“We call for the annexation project to be confronted with resistance in all forms,” said senior Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil.

Arouri told Hamas-linked al-Resalah TV channel that “mass actions” are being planned “in all regions” in protest against Israel’s planned annexation of the West Bank.

Hamas is willing to work with any group to coordinate anti-annexation efforts, he said, including the Palestinian Authority.

“The PA should remove any fears that we will take their place in the West Bank. We only want to extend an outstretched hand to join in resisting the occupier,” al-Arouri said.

Deep divisions remain between Hamas and the PA, but Bardawil called for a “union of the political class.”

“It is the duty of each free Palestinian citizen to rise up against this flagrant aggression on our land,” he said.

Last month, the two rival Palestinian factions observed the 13th anniversary of their schism, which formally began when Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007 in a near civil war. The takeover dissolved the Hamas-Fatah unity government, and subsequent attempts to reconcile the two have borne little fruit

Annexation delays

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition government had set July 1 as the date it could begin implementing Trump’s annexation proposals.

But on Wednesday, Netanyahu’s office said he will continue to discuss the possible annexation of parts of the West Bank with the US administration.

At the same time, Netanyahu convened top Israeli security brass, including National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat, on Wednesday to discuss the issue, the statement said. “In the coming days there will be additional discussions,” the Prime Minister’s Office added.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wears a face mask against COVID-19, bearing the US and Israeli flags, during a press conference with US special representative for Iran (not seen) at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 30, 2020. (Abir Sultan/POOL/AFP)

The statement came amid uncertainty over whether Israel will ultimately follow through on the annexation initiative, which has drawn fierce condemnations from some of Israel’s closest allies.

The US plan, unveiled in January, calls for any annexations to come as part of a larger peace package, including negotiations on the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state across the roughly 70% of the West Bank that won’t be annexed by Israel, with a link to Gaza — a prospect that is untenable to many on the Israeli right.

The Trump plan also calls for talks with the Palestinians and buy-in from Gulf Arab states that would theoretically be tasked with providing massive funds for a nascent Palestinian state’s economy.

The US aside, the international community has voiced near-unanimous opposition against unilateral moves by Israel. Netanyahu held off on making an annexation announcement on Wednesday.

Beyond international opposition, Netanyahu has encountered resistance from his governing partners in the Blue and White party. Defense Minister Benny Gantz, the party’s leader, this week said the July 1 target date was not “sacred” and suggested that annexation could wait while the government grapples with Israel’s coronavirus crisis.

On Tuesday, Gantz said the Trump plan needs to be advanced “correctly, in bringing as many partners to this discussion from the countries of the region, with international backing.” He added: [We must] make every effort to connect with them and only then continue. And I think all means to bring in the players have not yet been exhausted.”

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