Analysis: In a Palestinian unity gov't, Hamas wins

Group won't be required to adjust its ideology and will achieve int'l legitimacy.

haniyeh abbas 248 (photo credit: AP [file])
haniyeh abbas 248
(photo credit: AP [file])
Even if Hamas agrees to form a unity government with Fatah, this does not mean that the Islamist movement would change its overall strategy or soften its position on the Israeli-Arab conflict. Barring last-minute obstacles, reconciliation talks are slated to be launched in Cairo this week between representatives of Hamas and Fatah in a bid to reach agreement on the formation of a new Palestinian unity government. The talks are not aimed at persuading Hamas to change its ideology or recognize Israel's right to exist or renounce terrorism. Instead, they are designed to find a formula that would allow the two parties to sit together in a unity government whose primary mission would be to rebuild, with the help of the international community, houses and institutions in the Gaza Strip that were destroyed during Operation Cast Lead. Fatah leaders have already made it clear that they are not going to the talks to ask Hamas to make any "political concessions." These leaders stressed that the talks are mainly aimed at resolving their differences with Hamas and establishing a unity government as a way of lifting the blockade that was imposed on the Gaza Strip after the movement came to power in January 2006. Hamas spokesmen, on the other hand, have made it clear that the movement's participation in any future government with Fatah should not be seen as a step toward "moderation." As a Hamas legislator in the Gaza Strip explained on Monday: "If anyone thinks that Hamas is going to give up its principles and ideology in return for ministerial posts or international aid, they are mistaken." He pointed out that if Hamas really wanted to change its policies, it could have done so three years ago. Then, the international community set three conditions for dealing with the newly elected Hamas regime: renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept all agreements signed between Israel and the PLO. "Then we said no and we continue to say no today," the Hamas representative said. "We haven't changed and we're not going to change just to make [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas happy." He and other Hamas representatives said that they were nevertheless not opposed to the idea of forming a unity government with Fatah "because of the huge challenges facing the Palestinian people." In other words, Hamas is saying that it will form a unity government with Fatah only because the new reality on the ground and the results of the Israeli general elections require that the Palestinians close ranks. Both Hamas and Fatah realize that the only way to persuade the international community to contribute to the reconstruction work in the Gaza Strip is by ending their continued power struggle and forming a unity government. Ever since the war ended, the two parties have been engaged in a bitter power struggle over who's in charge of rebuilding the Gaza Strip - bickering that has prompted many countries to delay sending financial and humanitarian aid to the Palestinians there. Hamas and Fatah are also worried about the rise of right-wing parties in Israel's recent general election. Both factions expect a right-wing coalition led by Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu and Israel Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman to escalate tensions in the region by launching an all-out military offensive in the Gaza Strip. Ibrahim Abu al-Naja, a senior Fatah official, said over the weekend that the latest political developments in Israel, namely the probable rise of Netanyahu to power, require that his faction join forces with Hamas. Another Fatah leader claimed on Monday that a Likud-led coalition would signal the "death of the peace process." This, he said, would "undermine the Palestinian Authority and boost Hamas." At present, the prospects of establishing a Hamas-Fatah government appear to be slim, as the gap between the two sides appears to be as wide as ever. The propaganda war between the two parties is still raging despite efforts to create a better atmosphere ahead of the Cairo talks. Moreover, Hamas on Monday threw a bombshell by announcing that it has arrested Fatah security officers who allegedly helped the IDF during the war in the Gaza Strip. Some of the suspects even made televised "confessions," saying their Fatah handlers in Ramallah had recruited them to gather information about the movements and whereabouts of Hamas members. The Hamas allegations were strongly condemned by Abbas's top aide and unofficial spokesman, Yasser Abed Rabbo, who rushed to accuse Hamas of seeking to sabotage the Cairo reconciliation discussions. In any case, a new Palestinian unity government would mean victory for Hamas for two reasons: one, the movement would not be required to make any major political concessions and, two, a unity government would turn the movement into a legitimate and internationally recognized player in the Palestinian arena. Ironically, the same forces that have been working so hard over the past three years to delegitimize Hamas are now helping the movement win the international recognition that it is so desperate to gain.