The reunion was highly unexpected, but governments can form quickly in the Middle East. The West Bank and the Gaza Strip are back together for now, at least politically speaking. According to the AP:
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas swore in a national unity government Monday, formally ending a crippling seven-year split with his Islamic militant Hamas rivals but drawing Israeli threats of retaliation.
The formation of the unity government and Israel’s tough response are part of a wider competition between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for international support since the collapse of U.S.-led peace talks between them in April.
What that government’s functional power would be is unclear at this point, particularly since three members of the temporary council were not permitted to leave Gaza for the swearing-in ceremony. Perhaps they will govern via Skype? The Middle East Institute wrote:
Following a ceremony at the Muqataa presidential compound in Ramallah, Abbas hailed “the end” of a bitter and sometimes bloody divide between his Fatah movement and the rival Hamas which rules Gaza.
Hamas also applauded the new government as representing “all Palestinians,” saying it was a “turning point” in its formerly bitter relations with Fatah.
One question is how the groups will finance this venture, as the plan will only increase expenses for the Palestinian Authority. Israel’s Security Cabinet has already promised sanctions and urges the U.S. and Europe to do the same. Both the U.S. and Europe have promised to keep sending aid, provided the Fatah position continues to overrule Hamas’s usual line: Abbas must recognize Israel and eschew violence.
The Gaza Strip is a tiny, densely populated area along the Mediterranean Sea, populated entirely by Palestinians since Israel pulled out of completely. Since 2007 it has been under the leadership of Hamas, considered a terrorist group by much of the world.
Meanwhile, parts of the West Bank, so called because it borders the western bank of the Jordan River, is under the control of the Palestinian Authority under Fatah and Abbas, as per the Oslo Accords. Fatah and Hamas split in 2007. The two Palestinian enclaves have grown further apart culturally because Israel proper lies directly between them.
This split has been cited as one of many barriers to a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A Zogby Research Services LLC poll, conducted with 1,000 Israelis and Palestinians over age eighteen in August 2013, shows a majority of both groups believe the two-state solution is not feasible.
With this barrier possibly down, the prospect of a solution would seem brighter. But Netanyahu said Hamas “has been declared a terrorist organization in the U.S., Europe, Egypt and throughout the world,” and “the international community needs to treat it accordingly.”
Governing has moderated Hamas slightly. Hamas promised to end suicide bombings in 2006, according to the Guardian, and the group has also had an unofficial truce with Israel in recent times. That is not to say that violence has ended, as Hamas has not kept other groups in check, and Israel has not been impressed.