TEL AVIV — Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas announced a deal Thursday that could end a decade-long rift and give new life to their long dormant drive for an independent state.
The preliminary agreement between moderate Fatah, which governs the West Bank, and militant Hamas, which rules Gaza, also could help relieve mass suffering in Gaza and reduce chances of another war between Hamas and Israel.
Under the terms of the agreement, announced in Cairo, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas could resume governing Gaza a decade after Hamas overran the territory of 2 million people along Israel's western border.
A deal that puts Abbas in charge of Gaza has the support of Israel and the United States, which both consider Hamas to be a terrorist group. Hamas' military branch, which seized Gaza in 2006, has waged three wars with Israel.
To contain the radical group and prevent it from building up an offensive military arsenal, both Israel and Egypt have maintained blockades that have left most Gaza residents living in destitude.
Egyptian-led talks between Fatah and Hamas have been taking place since September.
Kobi Michael, former head of Palestinian affairs at the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs, said the tentative agreement may prompt Hamas "to move away from terrorism."
"We will remain optimistic, but with so many significant obstacles, I’m afraid that all the involved parties will find themselves frustrated in the near future," he said of both remaining issues to be resolved by the two Palestinian factions, as well as the monumental barriers to an agreement with Israel on the creation of an independent state.
The biggest obstacle to the two groups' reconciliation is the extensive arsenal of Hamas’ military wing, which includes thousands of rockets, missiles and drones as well as a network of underground tunnels used to get around the blockades by smuggling goods and people in an out of Israel and Egypt. Hamas previously said it would not relinquish its arsenal.
Since April, the Palestinian Authority has attempted to squeeze Hamas by refusing to transfer electricity into Gaza, worsening already dire conditions there.
Israel's government said Fatah and Hamas would be required to recognize Israel and ensure the disarmament of Hamas, according to the Israeli news site Ynet.
Last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the Palestinian political unity process for failing to demand that Hamas de-militarize.
Netanyahu also demanded that Hamas end its recently revived relationship with its benefactor and Israel’s top adversary, Iran.
Israel "won’t accept faux reconciliations in which the Palestinian side reconciles at the expense of our existence," Netanyahu said during a meeting with his right-wing Likud party in the West Bank settlement of Maaleh Adumim.
Eran Lerman, the former deputy director of Israel’s National Security Council, said that Hamas' collaboration with the Palestinian Authority could lead to meaningful change n the region.
"Hamas as a government has come to terms with things that Hamas as a terrorist organization has refused to come to terms with: It needs to serve the needs of Gazans, who don’t want another war with Israel,” he said.
Lerman added that Israel or any other parties should not be “delusional” that Hamas' military wing would be willing to discontinue its terrorist activity.
Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at al-Azhar University in Gaza, said that it remains to be seen if the two factions could compromise on their divergent visions for the future of the Palestinian cause.
"Palestinians are already celebrating," he said. "They are exhausted, they want a new life. Hamas reached the conclusion they want to give up their control over government, and focus more on resistance. We will need to wait to see what that means."