Analysis: Summit won't end Hamas-Fatah rivalry

Parties have announced deal at least three times in past few months - followed by more clashes.

mashaal 88 (photo credit: AP)
mashaal 88
(photo credit: AP)
Even if Tuesday's summit in Mecca between Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Mashaal results in an agreement on the formation of a Palestinian unity government, this will not necessarily end the power struggle that has been raging between Fatah and Hamas for weeks. Over the past few months, the two parties announced at least three times that they had managed to strike a deal on the unity government. Ironically, each announcement was followed by another round of armed clashes that claimed the lives of dozens of Palestinians. Last weekend's bloody events in the Gaza Strip - the worst since the confrontation began - were accompanied by statements from both Hamas and Fatah officials to the effect that the two sides were "very close" to reaching an agreement. According to a senior Hamas official, the two parties have resolved 96 percent of the differences. Fatah leaders, on the other hand, expressed cautious optimism, noting that it was premature to talk about a breakthrough. The major sticking points that have thus far prevented the formation of a unity government center around the distribution of cabinet portfolios and Hamas's refusal to abide by previous agreements signed between the PLO and Israel. Although Hamas has reportedly agreed to cede control over a number of key ministries in the proposed unity government, including the Foreign Affairs, Information and Finance ministries, the Islamic movement is still opposed to handing over the Interior Ministry, which is formally in charge of the Palestinian Authority security forces, to Fatah. Moreover, the two sides have yet to agree on the identity of the Fatah official who will be appointed deputy prime minister. But what is certain is that the new government will be headed by incumbent Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. With regard to the political platform of the unity government, Fatah is no longer insisting that it contain an explicit recognition of Israel's right to exist or a renunciation of terrorism as demanded by the Quartet. At Tuesday's summit, Abbas and Mashaal will try to reach an agreement on the future of the agreements with Israel. Hamas has made it clear that it is prepared to go as far as "honoring" the agreements without committing itself to "abiding" by them. In other words, Hamas does not want to be seen as having accepted the Oslo Accords and the two-state solution. But even if the two sides manage to resolve the dispute over the cabinet portfolios and political program, it remains to be seen whether they would be able to restore mutual confidence in light of the recent fighting. Hamas remains very skeptical of Fatah's intentions and is convinced that Abbas and his lieutenants are actually trying to topple the Hamas-led government with the help of the US and Israel. Fatah, for its part, is convinced that Hamas's main goal is to stick to power at any cost and to turn Fatah into a junior partner in the unity government. It also remains to be seen whether Fatah and Hamas would be able to enforce discipline on their militiamen on the streets of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The events of the past few weeks have demonstrated that the two sides have lost a certain degree of control over their gunmen, who continue to shoot at each other despite numerous cease-fires. Under the circumstances, a Fatah-Hamas government will most likely be a recipe for increased tensions between the two parties, as each side continues to stick to its traditional position. In light of the deep hostilities between the two parties, it would be no surprise if the tensions between the Fatah and Hamas ministers result in renewed fighting on the streets.