The government of national consensus that took the oath of office before Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas today may save Hamas from its suffocating financial crisis and the heavy burden of administering Gaza, but at the same time will weaken the movement and lead to internal crises in the foreseeable future.
There is no question that the siege the movement has experienced over the past year, since a military coup removed elected Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi, had put Hamas in a deep hole due to the near permanent closure of the Rafah crossing, the destruction of more than one thousand tunnels that were a lifeline for Gaza’s economy, and due to the vicious Egyptian media campaign against it.
Hamas has put all its eggs in the basket of Abbas, giving him all the concessions he wanted. But Abbas’ basket is full of holes and he too is facing severe crises of his own after the failure of his negotiating strategy with Israel. Like Hamas, he is merely jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
When I say that Hamas waved the white flag and gave in to all of Abbas’ conditions and demands, I am referring to its relinquishing of three major ministerial portfolios: first, the foreign ministry — Hamas had rejected Riyad al-Maliki remaining in that role but agreed after Abbas insisted. Second, there was the ministry of religious affairs — Hamas tried to put forward a different candidate than the one selected, and finally the ministry of prisoner affairs, which Abbas abolished under Israeli and American pressure.
One cannot therefore describe this as a “government of national consensus” by any stretch of the imagination — despite Hamas welcoming its installation at the last minute. Rather it is the government of Abbas and his authority. The four Gaza ministers, all of them independents, were not permitted to travel to Ramallah for the swearing-in ceremony, except for Ziad Abu Amra, the minister of culture who was already in Ramallah.
It is difficult to be optimistic about the ability of this government to achieve its greatest responsibility which is organizing presidential and legislative elections at the end of the six-month period that is envisaged for them to take place. The biggest reason is Israel’s threats not to recognize or deal with the government, except perhaps in exchange for an enormous price: Abbas dropping his conditions for returning to the negotiating table, including the release of a fourth batch of prisoners and the freezing of settlements.
The contradictory statements from Hamas leaders and spokespersons in the final hours before the government was sworn in reveal the confusion within the movement’s ranks. They also reveal the clear divisions between two factions — one that from the beginning of the “reconciliation” process opposed giving the keys of government back to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and creating a consensus government according to Abbas’ conditions, and another faction that saw that given the severe financial crisis and siege, Hamas would have to leave office and return to the situation that existed before 2007 when it took power in the Gaza Strip.
Perhaps it is too early to render judgment about Hamas’ choice, but there is no doubt that Abbas dictated all the conditions and put a gun to Hamas’ head. He told them either you accept or I will put a bullet into the “reconciliation” agreement. Hamas, or at least the prevailing faction within it, preferred to accept Abbas’ terms, dropping all the movement’s objections.
The government was announced at 1pm, just before Abbas headed off to Jordan.
Writer and broadcaster Abdel Bari Atwan is the founder of Rai al-Youm, where this op-ed was first published in Arabic. He is the former editor of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi and is the author of numerous books.