Fatah and Hamas signed another power sharing agreement this weekend in Cairo,
but if experience is any guide it is doubtful this one will be any more
successful than the previous attempts at reconciliation between the rival
The new pact calls for voter registration in Gaza
and consultations on formation of an interim government of technocrats to begin
May 27. The new cabinet, to be agreed upon within 10 days, would operate for six
months, during which time it would set a date for presidential and parliamentary
elections, probably sometime next year.
The new cabinet is to replace one
sworn in just last week by Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas and
immediately branded illegitimate by Hamas. Abbas said the yet-unformed interim
body will not include Hamas because “everybody in the government should
recognize Israel, denounce terrorism.”
The last legislative election was
in 2006, which Hamas won. Abbas’ term as president ended in 2009, but he has
repeatedly postponed new elections, worried Hamas could sweep the presidential,
legislative and long-postponed municipal votes.
Fearful of a popular
uprising, Abbas has been tightening his grip on power, including jailing
bloggers, social network users and journalists on charges of offending him or
other PA officials.
The secular nationalist Fatah and the Islamist Hamas
have dramatically opposing philosophies, particularly relations with Israel –
one supports peaceful coexistence between two states and the other seeks the
“liberation of occupied land via armed struggle.”
Abu Marzouk, Hamas’s
No. 2, said his group doesn’t object to Abbas negotiating with Israel, but that
any peace agreement will only be a temporary truce – a hudna – and “We will not
recognize Israel as a state.”
PRIME MINISTER Binyamin Netanyahu has said
Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas,
which it considers a terrorist organization, as does the United States. Both
countries won’t deal with Hamas, an Iranian ally that seized control of Gaza in
a 2007 coup, until it recognizes Israel’s right to exist, accepts prior
Palestinian- Israeli agreements and renounces terrorism – all of which it
Netanyahu uses these unity agreements to accuse Abbas of
“turning his back on peace” and “join[ing] up with the Hamas terrorist
organization.” The Palestinian leader, he added, must choose between the “path
of Hamas or the path of peace.”
Abbas’s problem is that reconciliation
between the two factions is more popular on the street than among the groups’
leaders, who are loath to share power. In fact, Hamas itself is split between
the leadership in exile, headed by Khaled Mashaal, and the Gaza leadership, led
by Ismail Haniyeh.
An analysis in Lebanon’s Daily Star said, “Palestinian
frustration towards a leadership seen as inept, out of touch and repressive is
rising to dangerous levels.”
A stumbling block in reconciliation has been
Hamas’s objection to Salam Fayyad continuing as prime minister. It considers his
appointment illegal because it was never approved by the Legislative Council,
which it controls. He is a secular, political independent and internationally
respected economist who has done much to bring order out of the chaos and
corruption of the Palestinian government left by Yasser Arafat. His presence in
government is considered essential to maintaining the confidence of donor
nations that keep the PA financially afloat.
There is a great gap between
signing reconciliation agreements and implementing them. Each side has good
reason to fear the other wants to eliminate it.
Some in Fatah see power
sharing giving Hamas freer hand to challenge it in the West Bank and replace it,
while Hamas worries letting Fatah security forces into Gaza could lead to its
The Jerusalem Post reported most Palestinians “reacted with
skepticism” to the latest reconciliation attempt, particularly in light of an
ongoing PA crackdown on Hamas supporters in the West Bank.
latest attempt at reconciliation limps ahead, the likelihood of resuming peace
talks with Israel becomes even more remote.
In a personal letter to Abbas
last week, Netanyahu – who is clearly pleased about the ongoing Palestinian
political chaos – said his new unity government represents a new opportunity for
peace talks and offered to resume negotiations without any preconditions, and
for the first time he put in writing his commitment to a two-state
Abbas quickly rejected it, according to aides who said he does
not trust Netanyahu or consider his offer genuine. Abbas continues to refuse to
meet the Israeli leader until Netanyahu agrees to a total construction freeze,
including in Jerusalem, acceptance of the 1967 border with limited land swaps as
a reference point to begin negotiations, and the release of prisoners.
Abbas thinks Netanyahu is not serious, there’s an easy way to find out – unless
the Palestinian leader is afraid to call Netanyahu’s bluff and expose his
The big mystery is whether either one is ready for serious
But that is on hold while Palestinians negotiate among
themselves. First the rival Hamas factions have to make salaam with each other
before they can come to a power-sharing agreement with their rival Fatah. And if
they ever achieve that, which one’s approach to peace with Israel will prevail?
If Fatah and Hamas can’t make peace with each other, how can they be expected to
make peace with Israel?
The history of Palestinian reconciliation agreements is
one of repeated failure to consummate a marriage of