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The Monitor's View

Why Israel and Obama should welcome Hamas-Fatah reconciliation

The Arab Spring has inspired young Palestinians to protest for an elected, unified government. Hamas has agreed – a hint that its moderates may be gaining influence. Don't dismiss the pact too quickly.

By the Monitor's Editorial Board / April 29, 2011

The Arab Spring for freedom that first bloomed in Tunisia last December just keeps unfolding. And each new blossom in the Middle East and North Africa raises this difficult question:

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What will Arabs demanding liberty eventually do with the liberty-denying Islamists in their countries?

In postrevolution Egypt, for example, leaders are trying to work with any democracy-loving member of the Muslim Brotherhood they can trust. Both Libya’s anti-Qaddafi rebels and Syria’s street demonstrators are sorting out the jihadists in their midst. In Yemen, pro-freedom protesters are keeping the local Al Qaeda group at arm’s length.

But then there is Hamas.

The extremist Palestinian Muslim group has ruled the tiny Gaza Strip with an iron fist since 2007. It still often rains rockets down on Israeli civilians, earning it a US label as a terrorist group. But in the past two months, Hamas’s world has become very unsettled.

Egypt, which allows the only border access for Gazans, has clearly chosen democracy. Syria, which supports Hamas by providing exile to some leaders, appears on the verge of revolution.

Most of all, both Hamas and its rival group in control of the West Bank, Fatah, have recently felt the heat from young Palestinians inspired by the Arab Spring.

In protests in March, tens of thousands of young people in both Palestinian territories demanded a democratic government that can unite the West Bank and Gaza. Police in Gaza used violence to suppress the protests. In the West Bank, the demonstrations were directed at Mahmoud Abbas, the head of Fatah, who is also the Palestinian Authority president.

This public pressure helps explain the surprise deal reached Wednesday by Hamas and Fatah. The tentative reconciliation pact, brokered by Egypt and scheduled to be formally signed May 4, aims to set up an interim government of independent technocrats that would hold presidential and parliamentary elections by the end of the year.


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