Analysis: Power struggles after Hamas-Fatah unity deal

Hamas's rhetoric in English differs from comments in Arabic; sides have yet to reach agreement over identity of PM who would head new gov't.

May 25, 2011 17:56
3 minute read.
Hamas and Fatah announce unity deal in Cairo

Palestinian Unity Egypt 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Three weeks after the signing of the Egyptian-brokered reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, the gap between the two parties seems to be as wide as ever.

The two parties have learned that signing an agreement is one thing and implementing it could be a completely different story.

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This has left a growing number of Palestinians wondering whether the reconciliation pact is for real.

Statements by leaders of Fatah and Hamas in recent weeks show that political and ideological differences between them remain as strong as ever.

While Palestinian Authority President and Fatah Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has reassured Americans and Europeans that a unity government would endorse his policies and strategy, especially with regards to the Middle East peace process, Hamas leaders have emphasized that the new government would not recognize Israel’s right to exist or conduct peace talks with the Jewish state.

Abbas’s argument that the unity government would be controlled only by independent figures with no political affiliations has also been challenged by Hamas leaders, who have presented to Fatah a list of names of Hamas-affiliated candidates for prime minister and ministerial portfolios.

Some PA officials have defended the accord by arguing that Hamas has changed and is now willing to renounce violence and accept the two-state solution. But statements of Hamas leaders (in Arabic) show that the Islamist movement has not changed and has no intention of doing so.

Moreover, the two sides have yet to reach agreement over the identity of the prime minister who would head the unity government.

Hamas has strongly rejected Abbas’s demand to keep Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in his post and has proposed a number of Hamas-affiliated figures for the top job.

Abbas is worried that the absence of Fayyad would have a negative impact on US and European financial aid to the Palestinians.

The continued PA security crackdown on Hamas supporters in the West Bank, as well as the ongoing smear campaigns waged by the two parties against each other, has reinforced skepticism toward the Fatah-Hamas accord.

The words and actions of Fatah and Hamas officials and activists have left many Palestinians with the impression that nothing has changed since the two sides signed the reconciliation deal in Cairo on May 4.

Hamed Bittawi, a senior Hamas representative in the West Bank, said this week that instead of releasing Hamas supporters, the PA has stepped up its security crackdown on the Islamist movement.

Bittawi also strongly criticized the PA for proceeding with security coordination with Israel. He claimed that the PA security forces in the West Bank have told Hamas detainees that they were opposed to the deal with Hamas and would do everything they could to thwart it.

Earlier this week, the PA security forces in Nablus arrested Abdel Rahman Hindiyeh, a Hamas operative who had refused to report for questioning. The arrest drew condemnations from Hamas spokesmen, who said that the crackdown was in violation of the “spirit of reconciliation.”

A Hamas official in the West Bank said that it was “absurd” that Abbas’s aides were negotiating with Hamas in Cairo while his security forces were arresting and torturing Hamas supporters in the West Bank.

On Tuesday, 11 Hamas detainees held in a PA prison near Nablus went on hunger strike to demand their release in wake of the reconciliation agreement. The detainees have been held without trial for nine months.

The recent speeches of US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in Washington have been exploited by Hamas to attack Abbas’s declared support for the peace process. Hamas leaders said that the statements of Obama and Netanyahu prove that those Arabs who think that peace is possible are mistaken and should reconsider their policies.

The reconciliation pact may eventually produce a unity government of “technocrats,” but it evidently won’t solve the many differences between Ramallah and Gaza.

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