Hamas-backed “unity government” to cooperate with Israel army, Erekat says

The Palestinian Authority (PA) will continue to cooperate with the Israeli occupation army even after a Hamas-backed “national unity government” is formed, Saeb Erekat, Palestinian chief negotiator has told The Electronic Intifada.

“Security coordination with the Israelis and defining the meaning of security coordination, in accordance with the agreements, they will continue,” Erekat said by telephone from the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The Palestinian Authority was created as a result of the 1993 Oslo Accords signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Under that and subsequent agreements, PA security forces actively cooperate with Israel in the West Bank, as they did in Gaza until Hamas expelled them in June 2007.

Efforts to form a “unity government” are currently under negotiation between leaders of Hamas, the Palestinian political and resistance movement designated as a “terrorist” organization by the United States and its allies, and the US-supported Fatah faction headed by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, along with smaller factions.

Erekat justified cooperation with the Israeli military as an unavoidable necessity of a people under occupation: “if Mahmoud Abbas wants to leave to Amman, you have to ask for permission for him” from the Israelis.

But cooperation has gone much further than merely coordinating movements of Palestinian Authority VIPs. In recent years the United States and Israel have lavished praise on PA security forces for helping Israel control the Palestinian population under occupation, and in particular for cracking down on Hamas and other resistance factions. PA forces were built-up under a program run by US Army Lt.-Gen. Keith Dayton.

After the release of the Palestine Papers in January, military expert Mark Perry assessed the record of the PA forces:

Despite Dayton’s presumed accomplishments, the forces he has overseen have been accused of being an arm of both the Israeli occupation and an extension of Abbas’ efforts to crush political dissent in the West Bank. Palestinian security forces have been accused of involvement in torture of Hamas officials detained in the sweeps in the West Bank over the last three years. Accounts of torture and abuse of power, of the willful crushing of political dissent and the shuttering of nongovernmental organizations associated with movements and political parties opposed to PA policies have plagued the Palestinian security services – the Interior Ministry’s special “General Intelligence” (or “GI”) Service, the PG (or “Presidential Guard” – an elite unit guarding Abbas) and Dayton’s National Security Forcres (NSF). The reports are credible - and even admitted to by PA officials who call them regrettable and who vow to stop them.

“Security coordination” was one of the key causes of the bitter division between Hamas and the Abbas’ Fatah faction.

Nevertheless, relations between PA forces and the Israeli army have been close as symbolized by the visit of then Israeli army chief General Gabi Ashkenazi paid to PA security forces leaders in Bethlehem late last year. Ashkenazi was Israel’s top commander during its December 2008 - January 2009 attack on Gaza which killed 1,400 Palestinians including more than 350 children.

By agreeing to support a PA “unity government” that shows every sign of continuing this relationship uninterrupted, has Hamas effectively dropped its opposition to “security coordination”? The movement’s leaders have remained silent on the subject since the “reconciliation” agreement was signed in Cairo on 4 May.

Erekat said that talks would resume in Cairo today Monday to form a “unity government” composed of “technocratic people” nominated and supported by Hamas and Fatah, but who would not necessarily be members of either faction.