The new Palestinian reconciliation agreement doesn't address the massive elephant in the room

The most contentious question between the rival Palestinian factions that announced a reconciliation deal Thursday is still up in the air.

Both Fatah and Hamas have acknowledged that the issue of Hamas’ military wing was not discussed during the talks that led to Thursday’s deal, signed in Cairo and brokered by Egypt.

This could be a sticking point for any reconciliation efforts moving forward. Fatah — which controls the West Bank — and Hamas — which controls Gaza — have been separated since a bloody near-civil war in 2007.

Before the most recent round of talks began, Abbas said he would not accept “the reproduction of the Hezbollah experience in Lebanon.” Hezbollah, a recognised terrorist group, is part of the Lebanese government, but maintains its own army.

Hamas has remained staunchly opposed to even discussing demilitarization, and in the past has called their military wing the “arms of the resistance” and argued “the resistance’s weapons are legal.”

“It is difficult to imagine Hamas giving up its weapons for the sake of reconciliation,” Tariq Dana, policy adviser at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, told Al Jazeera earlier this month.

“If Hamas lays down its weapons, it will no longer exist as a liberation movement, and therefore it will lose the popularity and legitimacy that lie at the core of its power,” Dana said.

Hamas’ military wing, known as the al-Qassam Brigades, comprises an estimated 25,000 troops, according to The New York Times.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made demilitarization one of his criteria for entering any talks with the Palestinians, a view also held by the Quartet — the US, United Nations, Europe Union, and Russia.

“Any reconciliation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas must meet the Quartet’s conditions — accepting international agreements, recognising Israel, and disarming Hamas,” Israeli officials said in a statement after the deal was announced. “Continued tunnel activity, rocket building, and the exporting of terrorism against Israel is in contradiction of the Quartet’s conditions and US efforts to restart the diplomatic process.”

Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel and the US, which has complicated efforts by the Palestinians to bring the groups together. This has been considered the most serious effort to date to bring the two factions together since the 2007 split.

While details about the deal are still scarce, it appears that Fatah — the ruling party in the West Bank — will have more control over Gaza, run by Hamas since the split. Specifically, Fatah will reportedly have joint control over a key Gaza border crossing, and will in return lift some punitive sanctions.

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