The announcement of the new Hamas-Fatah unity government in Ramallah on Monday leaves many unanswered questions.
The most important question is how will the government be able to prepare or hold presidential and legislative elections in light of Israel’s decision to prevent Hamas from participating in the vote in the West Bank.
And who can guarantee that Hamas would not win the elections when and if they are held? Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced shortly after the government was sworn in that its main task would be to pave the way for elections within six months.
Abbas said late this week he would instruct the Palestinian Central Elections Commission to start preparing for the elections. The last presidential elections were held in January 2005. A year later, the Palestinians held parliamentary elections that resulted in Hamas’s victory.
A senior Palestinian official said the PA would appeal to the international community to exert pressure on Israel to allow the elections to take place at the end of this year.
The official pointed out that neither Israel nor the US had objected to Hamas’s participation in the January 2006 election.
Besides the issue of elections, it was not clear on Monday whether Hamas would relinquish control over the Gaza Strip in the wake of the unity government’s inauguration.
Hamas leaders have stressed over the past few days that the formation of the unity government does not mean their movement would dismantle its military wing or abandon the armed struggle against Israel.
Palestinian officials in Ramallah said they had no answer as to what would happen to Hamas’s armed wing and police force following the formation of the unity government.
Moreover, no one in Ramallah seemed to have a clear answer regarding the fate of tens of thousands of Hamas employees in the Gaza Strip.
On the one hand, it’s hard to believe that the Hamas soldiers would ever agree to become part of the PA security forces, which conduct security coordination with Israel.
Israel, for its part, won’t allow Hamas combatants and security officers to enter the West Bank.
It’s also unrealistic to believe that PA leadership would rush to add tens of thousands of Hamas employees to its payroll, especially in wake of the economic hardships facing the government.
On the other hand, those who think Hamas would allow Fatah-dominated security forces to return to the Gaza Strip as a result of the April 23 reconciliation pact are living in an illusion.
For now, both Hamas and Fatah prefer to avoid answering questions that could spoil the euphoria over the “historic” decision to end their differences.
The two parties are aware that these are explosive issues that could lead to the collapse of the reconciliation deal.
Then there’s the issue of the peace process. How will Hamas react when and if Abbas reaches a peace agreement with Israel? Too many questions have been left hanging in the air following the inauguration of the unity government.
But what is sure is that the Palestinians have taken the first step toward endorsing the Lebanon model of a “state within a state.”
Like Hezbollah, Hamas will continue to have its own security and civilian infrastructure even after a Palestinian state is established.
After all, the unity government does not mean that Hamas is on its way to vanishing.
On the contrary, the reconciliation deal has turned Hamas into a legitimate partner and player in the Palestinian arena.