In a three-hour address at a conference of his Fatah party, Mr. Abbas sought to push forward long-stalled efforts to reconcile the two major competing Palestinian factions, and to present an image of unity amid wide discord outside the hall where he spoke.Mr. Abbas invited Hamas to send representatives for negotiations to bridge the divide, and he thanked Khaled Meshal, the organization’s political chief, for offering a supportive message that Mr. Abbas passed along to the conference. A month after meeting with Mr. Meshal in Qatar, Mr. Abbas told his supporters that the two parties should form a joint government to be followed by presidential, legislative and other elections.“Our national unity is our safety valve, and I call on Hamas to end the division,” Mr. Abbas told the party conference. “There will not be a Palestinian state without Gaza.”
This latest gesture toward Palestinian unity seems directed mostly at credulous Westerners, who want to believe that Abbas can make progress on unifying Palestine and seeking a peace deal. But the divisions between various Palestinian factions are too great to make a united front feasible.As Abbas preaches unity and makes overtures to his militant rivals in Gaza, the Palestinian leader’s credibility is weaker than ever. Israel distrusts him, doubting both his sincerity in seeking a peace and his ability to deliver one given his inability to restrain Hamas in Gaza. Within Fatah, meanwhile, many complain that the 81-year-old leader is out of touch and too close to Israel. Abbas’ Palestinian critics have lately raked him over the coals for attending Shimon Peres’ funeral and assisting Israel in putting out wildfires. So long as such basic acts of goodwill are treated as unforgivable betrayals of the cause, Palestinians are unlikely to unify or move in a more moderate direction.Of course, even if Abbas did manage to bring Fatah and Hamas into a single government, it would bring no assurances about Israeli-Palestinian peace. If anything, empowering Hamas in a unified government would only embolden opponents of a Palestinian state in both Israel and in Washington, which is likely to take a harder stance against Palestine under a Trump administration anyway.Abbas’ speech may make headlines and keep international hopes for the Palestinian cause alive, which is what he wants. But we’ve seen this movie before, and any talk of reconciliation should be taken with a very big grain of salt.