Palestinian reconciliation ‘next to impossible’

Washington and Jerusalem shouldn’t overreact to talk about Fatah-Hamas unity negotiations. It is one thing to reach an agreement and another to implement it.

By
November 23, 2011 23:05
4 minute read.
PA President Abbas with Hamas PM Haniyeh

PA President Abbas with Hamas PM Haniyeh 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem)

Mahmoud Abbas has given up making shalom with Israel for the foreseeable future and is trying once again to make salaam with Hamas.

The Palestinian president and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, are scheduled to meet this week in Cairo to try to revive the power-sharing agreement that was signed in May but never implemented. They will also attempt to name a caretaker government to prepare for elections in about six months.

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Chances of success are only slightly higher than they were six months ago, said Robert Danin, former head of Tony Blair’s Jerusalem Quartet mission and a former senior State Department and National Security Council Middle East specialist. The two parties are far apart but there is strong popular support for unity, and the leaders fear being “consumed” by the unrest sweeping the Arab world, he added.

Danin cautioned against Washington and Jerusalem overreacting to talk of Palestinian unity, even if the two Palestinian factions smile and embrace for the cameras.

“It’s one thing to reach an agreement and another to implement it,” he said. “There are so many details that will be next to impossible to reconcile.”

One of Hamas’ core demands is replacing Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad with a Gazan of its choosing.

It blames him for the tough crackdown on its supporters on the West Bank by the new professional security forces. Those police, trained under the USfinanced Dayton program, have won high marks from their Israeli counterparts.



That’s not the only reason that outside the West Bank Fayyad is the most highly respected figure in the Palestinian Authority. He is also the driving force behind reforming the PA’s economy, fighting corruption, implementing political reforms and developing the institutions of statehood.

Fayyad has said he is willing to step down rather than “be used as a pretext for continuing the split.”

But that could endanger support from the donor nations whose money keeps the PA solvent.

ABBAS, FOR his part, has said there’s no reason for Jerusalem and Washington to be concerned because Hamas will not be part of the government. He is being disingenuous when he says the reconciliation pact would create an apolitical caretaker government of technocrats. Hamas and Fatah might not formally hold ministries but they will select the ministers and wield considerable influence, and that means they will effectively be running the government.

Abbas may say he’s anxious to meet with Mashaal, but he knows the real threat to his and Fatah’s survival is Hamas, not Israel; he recognizes the reality that the Israeli Army, as well as the PA security forces, is keeping Hamas from taking over the West Bank.

Fatah’s declared goal is to establish a secular national state living in peace with Israel, while Hamas wants to destroy both Israel and Fatah, and to create an Islamic republic not unlike that of its Iranian patrons.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II made a surprise trip to Ramallah Monday to urge Abbas to resume talks with Israel as proposed by the Quartet. Although he spoke publicly of Palestinian unity, it is reported that he privately urged Abbas not to form a unity government with Hamas. He is worried that a collapse of the Abbas government and a takeover by Hamas in the West Bank would be a direct threat to Jordan, which has a Palestinian majority and a large Muslim Brotherhood presence.

A day earlier Deputy Secretary of State William Burns went to Ramallah to tell Abbas that the Obama administration opposes a unity government with Hamas and would cut off funding unless the Islamic group, which the United States classifies a terrorist organization, meets Quartet demands that it recognize Israel’s right to exist, renounce violence and abide by all prior Israeli-Palestinian agreements.

A Hamas victory in the next election is not out of the question, and that could lead to a break in relations with the United States and Israel. If the PA is squeezed too hard, there is a danger the security forces, which are considered critical to keeping order, could collapse or turn on Israel.

Israeli analyst Yossi Alpher, a coeditor of Bitterlemons.org, said integrating Hamas into a Palestinian unity government reflects a trend in the Arab world that has Arab Islamist movements entering government.

The Netanyahu administration’s approach toward the Islamists may be changing.

“One of the elements pushing Abu Mazen [Abbas’ nom du guerre] is the perception that in the wake of the Schalit [prisoner swap] deal the Israelis are interested in dealing with the Islamist parties,” Danin said.

Abbas sees Netanyahu as willing to deliver over 1,000 prisoners to Hamas and none to Fatah, enhancing the Islamic group’s public stature at his expense, while also withholding tax funds Israel collected for the PA despite warnings from Israeli security officials not to undermine the Abbas government.

The army and intelligence establishment feel it is against Israel’s interest to strangle the PA, but rightwing members of Netanyahu’s coalition, led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, overruled the PM’s attempt at Sunday’s cabinet meeting to release the funds.

If Palestinian reconciliation breaks down and with no new negotiations likely, Alpher said, ‘The only real question is whether, where and to what extent large-scale violence will return.”

The writer is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He writes regularly for Anglo-Jewish newspapers and is the former legislative director of AIPAC and Washington representative of the World Jewish Congress.


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