Analysis: If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

By giving Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas a green light to negotiate with Hamas on a national unity government, the Fatah central committee is actually admitting that, under present circumstances, it's impossible to get rid of the Hamas-controlled government. Ever since Hamas won the parliamentary elections earlier this year, Abbas and his Fatah lieutenants have tried almost every way of bringing down the government, but to no avail. First, Abbas tried confiscating most of the powers of the new government, especially in the areas of security and finance. His moves met with partial success, and the result was a bitter power struggle that is still raging between the Hamas government in Gaza City and Abbas's presidential office in Ramallah, which has been functioning as a shadow government for the past seven months. Second, Abbas and his aides waged a war of words against Hamas in hopes of discrediting the Hamas government and convincing the Palestinians that they had made the wrong choice in the elections. To this end, Abbas enlisted dozens of Fatah spokesmen and journalists whose main job is to portray the Hamas government as an amateurish body that is unable to run the affairs of the Palestinian people. Third, he exploited the "reconciliation" document, drafted by Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, to threaten Hamas with a referendum, which, he hoped, would serve as a vote of confidence in the new government. That initiative also failed, especially after some of the prisoners who had signed it said they had been unaware that Abbas would use it to advance his plan of toppling a democratically elected government. The document itself remains controversial, with some interpreting it as "historic" because it recognizes Israel's right to exist, while others insist it contains no such recognition. Fourth, Abbas and his Fatah comrades played an instrumental role in persuading Arab and Western donors to refrain from providing the Hamas government with financial aid. They went as far as threatening local banks to stop them from transferring funds collected by Hamas abroad to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. However, Hamas eventually found alternative channels to bring in some of the money. Recently, after realizing that the anti-Hamas campaign was not working, Abbas decided to try to convince Hamas to allow his Fatah party to join the government. But when Hamas set conditions that were seen as humiliating by most Fatah members, Abbas started floating the idea of establishing a government of technocrats that would function separately from the Hamas government. He was forced to abandon that idea as well, mainly because of strong opposition within Fatah. Abbas, his aides say, is now prepared to join a Hamas government at almost any cost. Last week, some of his Fatah officials revealed that Abbas was no longer demanding that Hamas recognize Israel's right to exist as a prerequisite for the establishment of a national-unity government. His main objective now is to get the international community to resume financial aid to the PA, even if that means sitting with Hamas as a junior partner in a broad coalition. On Friday, at the end of three days of discussions in Amman, the Fatah central committee, a decision-making body comprising old timers and icons of corruption in Palestinian society, sent Abbas back to the Gaza Strip for another round of talks with Hamas on the national-unity government. The decision was taken much to the dismay of many grassroots activists and reformists in Fatah, who are now openly threatening to stage a coup against Abbas and his cronies. "What Abbas and these elderly Fatah leaders are doing is scandalous," said a prominent Fatah activist in Ramallah. "Instead of learning from the mistakes of the past and searching for ways to reform Fatah after its defeat in the election, they are working to advance their private interests. "Instead of joining a Hamas government, we should be investigating the reasons why we have lost the confidence of a majority of Palestinians."