President Abbas in Qatar today.(-/AFP/Getty Images)

What makes this reconciliation different from the last one?

The Fatah-Hamas deal, struck by Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Meshaal with the backing of emerging regional power broker Qatar, is as vague: The only step forward appears to be clear agreement that Palestinian Authority President Abbas, of Fatah, will be president. Yet there is some reason to believe that this deal may stick, at least for a little longer than the last one: Both sides need it a little bit more now. The P.A. is losing support, while Hamas is newly active in the West Bank; yet Hamas, which just had to abandon its longtime host in Damascus, is going broke. Just generally, the Palestinian cause needs a shot in the arm right now: As Prime Minister Fayyad pointed out last week, the Arab Spring has sapped what has frequently been the Arab world’s cause célèbre of its usual prestige and glamour. (Fayyad’s future will be a major roadblock as the unity government goes forward: Abbas will want him to stay on as head of government, in part because he is a crucial guarantor of Western support; but the Western-educated, technocratic, relatively moderate Fayyad is anathema to Hamas.)

There is the inconvenient but unavoidable fact that Hamas continues to insist on the right to armed struggle and to all of the land between the river and the sea. The peace process, however, has long been premised on the notion that each side is going to give up something. If Hamas will never give that demand up (and it may well not), then neither peace nor the unity government will work. As long as there is even a nominal peace process, however, we are operating under the assumption that Hamas is capable of adopting, as a negotiating precondition, the assumption that Israel has the right to exist. (Again, not saying it will do this, just that if it doesn’t all this talk is moot.) Moreover, Fatah-Hamas unity was going to have to happen to make the peace process work: Hamas’ popularity means it will need to be part of whichever group speaks on behalf of the Palestinian people. The best we can do is hope that the prerogatives of power and legitimacy and its being cut off from Damascus and Tehran will exert a genuinely moderating influence on the group. So, while Prime Minister Netanyahu is right to repeat the line he used several months ago, during Reconciliation 1.0—that Abbas must choose between peace with Israel or peace with Hamas—we observers can at least entertain the prospect of future Hamas reform.

And it’s telling that, while saying the above publicly (Netanyahu also said the time was “not good” for progress), the Israeli government—which surely knew this deal was coming—has also made some interesting offers privately. It suggested that the current West Bank barrier serve as the future borders of a Palestinian state—which would make for a smaller Palestine than the Palestinians would desire, but that’s why they call it negotiating. And, intriguingly, Israel stepped back from demands for permanent control of the Jordan Valley, insisting only on a “long-term” presence. (Zvika Krieger noticed this change.)

If I were a betting man—and given that I thought the Patriots were going to win last night, thank God I’m not—I’d bet against this working out: Hamas still believes what it believes, which is that Israel doesn’t have the right to exist, and it is not so hard-pressed to change tack. But Reconciliation 2.0 seems a little less ridiculous than Reconciliation 1.0, suggesting it’s conceivable that 4.0 or 5.0, a couple years down the road, will be promising.

Palestinian Factions Reach Unity Deal [NYT]
Support for Palestinian Authority Erodes as Prices and Taxes Rise [NYT]
Fayyad Says Palestinians ‘Marginalized’ By Arab Spring [Bloomberg]
Israel Proposes West Bank Barrier as Border [AP/ABC News]
Earlier: Is Meshaal Stepping Down to Step Up?
On Reconciliation, ‘The Devil Is in the Details’