Uncertain road ahead for Fatah-Hamas pact

Palestinians in Masara village in the occupied West Bank carry a mock coffin symbolizing Palestinian political division, 6 May 2011.

Anne Paq ActiveStills

RAMALLAH, occupied West Bank (IPS) - Despite the euphoria surrounding the recent signing in Cairo of the groundbreaking unity accord between Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas, ending their four-year feud, numerous obstacles remain which could impinge on the implementation of a unity government.

The Fatah-affiliated Palestinian Authority and the Islamist movement Hamas still have to overcome mutual suspicion, significant differences of opinion and practicalities on the ground before the implementation of a unity Palestinian government is possible.

Additionally, hostility from an Israeli government frothing at the bit to spoil the Cairo agreement, and a wary international community — particularly Western donor countries, on which the PA is dependent for foreign aid and political support — remain significant obstacles.

Evidence of the power struggle between the two main Palestinian factions was evident until the last minute in Cairo, when Egyptian interlocutors managed to smooth ruffled feathers to enable the historic signing to go ahead.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas, whose term in office expired in January 2009, wanted to sit alone at the podium and not share the stage with Damascus-based Hamas politburo chief-in-exile Khaled Meshal. The PA leader also demanded that his speech be longer than Meshal’s, indicating his desire to imprint his leadership on the new unity government. Meshal eventually acquiesced.

Hamas also showed pragmatism in meeting the PA and the international community’s demands in several other ways. The organization stated that it would only continue armed resistance against the Israeli occupation in coordination with the PA and would respect PA foreign policy in regard to previous agreements signed with the international community.

Furthermore, Hamas said it wanted a Palestinian state established along the 1967 boundaries, as does the PA — in accordance with international law. Some Hamas leaders have stated in the past that a political accommodation with Israel based on recognition of its existence as a de facto reality on the ground was possible even if they questioned its justness.

IPS interviewed Ahmed Yousef, an advisor to Gaza-based Hamas de facto Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, on whether Hamas would ever recognize Israel. “We would be prepared to implement a tadhiya [long-term truce] for forty years and then leave it to the next generation to decide the next steps,” Yousef told IPS.

But there remain challenges ahead in regard to the implementation of the joint government.

There is disagreement over the identity of the unity government’s next prime minister, who will belong to neither faction. Hamas wants somebody from Gaza to fill the position, while Fatah wants somebody from the West Bank.

Both, however, appear to be in agreement that the current Western-backed PA Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad — who is aligned to neither Palestinian faction — has to go. This in turn, however, could present problems from Western donors, particularly the Americans and Israelis whom Fayyad has a close working relationship with.

Democrats in the US Congress are already preparing legislation to halt American aid to the new government due to Hamas’ inclusion. European Union officials have said they need to study the wording of the new unity accord to determine if they will continue giving aid.

Should foreign aid to the PA cease, the PA could dissolve — leaving 170,000 Palestinians employed by it, and their dependents, without any livelihood, a scenario analysts say could well spark another Palestinian uprising.

There could also be discrepancies over the make-up of the new unity government which will be comprised of unaffiliated technocrats. These technocrats will prepare for elections to be held next year.

The agreement also stipulates that Hamas and Fatah will release each others’ prisoners; however, the Hamas website reported recently that four of its activists were arrested in the Askar refugee camp near the West Bank city of Nablus, and dozens of others were questioned by PA security forces.

Furthermore, the release of Hamas prisoners in the West Bank could create a security crisis with Israel with the close security coordination between the PA and Israel is under pressure.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned that the PA has to choose between peace with Israel, and peace with Hamas. He has also tried to invoke international sympathy stating the new unity government is a security threat to Israel.

However, the Israeli Foreign Ministry disagrees with this sentiment to a certain degree according to a report in the Israeli daily Haaretz.

An internal, confidential foreign ministry report advises that the creation of a Fatah-Hamas unity government in the Palestinian Authority would offer Israel a strategic opportunity.

“The Palestinian move is not only a security threat but also a strategic opportunity to create genuine change in the Palestinian context,” the report states. “Such change may serve the long-term interests of Israel.”

Former US President Jimmy Carter, who has long taken an interest in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, weighed in.

“If the United States and the international community support this effort, they can help Palestinian democracy and establish the basis for a unified Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza that can make a secure peace with Israel,” said Carter.

“If they remain aloof or undermine the agreement, the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory may deteriorate with a new round of violence against Israel,” stated Carter.

All rights reserved, IPS - Inter Press Service (2011). Total or partial publication, retransmission or sale forbidden.