Fatah and Hamas seem to be headed toward a new "reconciliation agreement" that neither of them wants. In fact, both of them are actually fighting to torpedo the agreement, each side in its own way.
The two rival parties abhor each other so much that the Egyptian mediators had to send them each a copy of the agreement by fax so they could sign it separately and return it to Cairo.
On Wednesday, Fatah reluctantly signed the agreement, perhaps out of belief and hope that Hamas would reject it. Fatah signed the agreement because it did not want to be held responsible for thwarting Egypt's efforts to achieve "national unity."
But Fatah also signed the accord as a way out of the crisis that erupted following Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas's decision to withdraw a resolution calling on the UN Human Rights Council to endorse the findings of the commission of inquiry headed by Richard Goldstone into Operation Cast Lead.
Abbas's decision has seriously embarrassed Fatah and prompted some of its new and veteran leaders to question his ability to continue governing the Palestinian people.
Before the fiasco over the Goldstone Report broke out, Fatah had expressed several reservations about the Egyptian-brokered agreement, especially with regards to the timing and nature of the next presidential and parliamentary election.
Fatah, moreover, had reservations about Egypt's intention to establish a security force that would run the affairs of the Gaza Strip and in which Hamas forces would continue to play a major role.
Fatah leaders have also made it clear that they prefer to go to new elections without Hamas. The last thing Fatah wants is a repetition of its defeat in the January 2006 parliamentary election.
But now that Fatah has lost many points on the Palestinian street because of Abbas's decision to ditch the resolution, the faction's embattled leaders are desperate to deflect attention from the public outcry. And there's nothing better than signing a "reconciliation" accord that makes the faction appear to be very keen to achieving "national unity."
The irony is that the agreement is being imposed on Fatah and Hamas at the peak of the crisis between them.
Shortly before he endorsed the Egyptian plan, Abbas launched a scathing attack on Hamas, accusing the movement of creating an "emirate of darkness" in the Gaza Strip, lying and misleading the Palestinians about the findings of the Goldstone Report and perpetrating war crimes against Palestinians.
Abbas's attacks on Hamas are seen as an attempt to provoke the movement to a point where it would refuse to accept the Egyptian plan.
Hamas, on the other hand, has exploited the uproar over Abbas's decision to withdraw the resolution from the UN Human Rights Council to discredit him and his authority and depict Fatah as pawns in the hands of the Israelis and Americans.
The Hamas incitement against Abbas climaxed when its supporters organized a public shoe-throwing campaign at portraits of the PA president in the Gaza Strip.
Like Fatah, Hamas never liked the Egyptian initiative for ending the power struggle between the two parties. At one point, it seemed that Hamas was willing to sign the agreement only as a result of immense pressure and threats from Cairo.
Hamas was not happy with the agreement because, in its view, it gave Abbas and Fatah a chance to return to the Gaza Strip.
The crisis that erupted following Abbas's move regarding the Goldstone Report gave Hamas a good excuse to find a way to avoid signing the reconciliation accord. A high-level Hamas delegation that visited Cairo last weekend told Egyptian General Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman that Hamas would not "shake hands or strike any deal with someone [Abbas] who betrayed his people and helped Israel bury its war crimes."
Hamas's main fear now is that by signing the accord, it would be helping Abbas save his reputation and emerge from the "Goldstone scandal" unharmed. Hamas is also worried that a deal with Abbas, who is being accused not only by Hamas but by many Palestinians of "high treason," would alienate many of the movement's allies and supporters, particularly those in Damascus and Teheran.
By forcing Hamas and Fatah into an unwanted marriage, the Egyptians are repeating the same mistake the Saudis and Yemenis made.
The Saudis forced the two parties to sign the Jeddah agreement, which lasted for less than four months. The Yemenis tried to copy the Saudi example, but were dealt a humiliating blow when Hamas and Fatah negotiators left the country without signing a deal, despite the Yemeni government's announcement that it had succeeded in ending the rift.
Even if Hamas does succumb to Egyptian pressure and adds its signature to the latest agreement, there's no guarantee that the accord would ever be implemented. This is a marriage that neither the groom nor the bride want.
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