Haniyeh and Abbas 521.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Fatah-Hamas reconciliation caught everyone by surprise – even Mahmoud Abbas.
Fatah, under Abbas’ leadership, had signed the proposed Egyptian document for
reconciliation in October 2009. I speculated then that the only reason Abbas
signed was because he was convinced Hamas would not. The new understandings
contain less content and explicit reconciliation than the original document,
which included a re-integration of the security forces. The current agreement is
much more procedural in nature, and mainly focuses on preparing for new
elections. I have frequently said the only thing that Fatah and Hamas can really
agree on is a date for new elections.
It is important to remember that
the Hamas-Fatah agreement leaves almost all the details to be
So many key questions remain unanswered: Who will lead the
new government? Will Fayyad still be prime minister? Will the international
community continue to support the PA without him? There will be a “formation of
the Higher Security Committee, composed of professional officers to be by
Will this committee instruct all the security forces to
continue cooperating with Israeli forces? Will the Hamas military wing agree to
a full ceasefire for a full year, as Abbas had demanded? Will Izz el-din
al-Qassam leader Ahmed Jaabri agree to the Fatah-Hamas agreement? Will Hamas
re-hire all the Fatah teachers who were replaced by Hamas teachers in Gaza? Will
the 80,000 Ramallah PA-paid employees go back to work in Gaza ministries? Will
Hamas really give up control to technocrat ministers? Will Fatah agree to a
government with zero Fatah representation? Will the thousands of Gazans living
in Ramallah and the West Bank go back to Gaza? How long will it take before the
US Congress freezes all money to Palestine? Will the three non-US members of the
Quartet continue to adhere to the Quartet demands that Hamas recognize Israel,
adhere to the Oslo agreements and renounce terrorism? Will the international
community continue to support a Palestinian state if it includes Hamas in its
government? What about Gilad Schalit – Abbas said he had no control, but what
about now? There are a lot more questions, and I doubt they can reach agreement
on all of them.
Some things, though, should be clear. It would be a huge
mistake to dismiss Fayyad from his position. I spoke with Fayyad, and could
easily understand how much he would like to see a Palestinian state born with
the acceptance of the whole world, including Israel. Fayyad’s reputation is so
good around the world that it is doubtful if any other potential prime minister
could gain the support of the donor nations and of the 130+ states prepared to
recognize Palestine in September.
MY ASSESSMENT of the new understanding
is that the Egyptians orchestrated it entirely, knowing of the growing
uncertainty of Hamas’s standing in Syria. Khaled Mashal reportedly sent a
message of support to the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, which could at least become
a legitimate political player in Syria if the Assad regime falls. Clearly this
act, once made known to Assad, resulted in some stern messages back to
The Hamas leadership has also begun to coordinate more directly
with the Muslim Brotherhood in the new Egypt. Hamas apparently wants to open an
interest office in Cairo, and the Brotherhood and Hamas have also demanded that
Cairo cease its cooperation in the siege of Gaza and immediately open the Rafah
crossing. My understanding is that the Egyptian military rulers informed Hamas
that they would open the border, but that Hamas had to agree to the Egyptian
proposal for reconciliation with Fatah. Hamas’s quick decision to comply and
caught everyone off guard.
Hamas immediately stated that they it would
not accept Fayyad as prime minister, but Abbas quickly replied that he is the
president and only he appoints the prime minister. This is already the first of
many difficulties to come. The Cairo agreement does not explicitly bring up the
mutual release of political prisoners, but this was mentioned in the press
conference when the agreement was announced. Abbas noted, though, that the PA in
the West Bank held no “political prisoners” – a clear contradiction to the Hamas
assertion that over 700 Hamas prisoners languish in PA jails.
perspective of the Quartet and Israel, the new reconciliation could be an
opportunity to advance peace with one Palestinian Authority.
Palestinian elections are the best way for the Palestinian people to tell the
world what they want. They will be given a choice, and it is important that the
choice be clear and direct. This is an opportunity to strengthen the supporters
of peace. This is a chance where peace or continued conflict can be chosen in
the ballot box, unlike the elections in which Hamas won as a result of a protest
vote against the corrupt Fatah. In order for that to happen, it is essential
that no one empower the extremists by engaging in policies that will push the
Palestinian people against the wall. Clear Israeli intentions to make peace with
the Palestinians, to end the occupation, to accept Palestinian statehood on the
basis of the 1967 borders with agreed territorial swaps (which legitimize the
settlement blocks) and two capitals in Jerusalem would bring victory to those
who want to live in peace with Israel.
But Israel has already taken steps
that will directly empower Hamas. Netanyahu’s knee-jerk statements in response
to the Cairo agreement, along with the unilateral decision of the minister of
finance to withhold tax transfers to the PA will feed the extremists. The taxes
collected by Israel (by agreement) do not belong to Israel. This is Palestinian
money, and without it, the PA will go bankrupt. The PA will begin to collect
taxes in Gaza, but with the high unemployment there, the tax base is quite
If the US and other Quartet members also freeze donations to the PA,
the economic successes which have paved the road of stabilization will collapse.
All the achievements of the past several years will fade, replaced by a new
round of violence.
Now is the time for diplomatic finesse and strategic
thinking, both of which seem lacking in Jerusalem. Hopefully the Quartet will be
The writer is co-CEO of IPCRI, the Israel/Palestine Center for
Research and Information (www.ipcri.org) and is now in the process of founding
the Center for Israeli Progress (http://israeli-progress.org).