Hamas, Fatah determined to form unity government
Despite delays and contention over who will head an interim technocratic Palestinian government, Fatah and Hamas are likely to come to terms, writes Khaled Amayreh
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Israelis destroy a water reservoir used by Palestinian farmers in the West Bank city of Hebron, citing a lack of proper permits
By time of Al-Ahram Weekly going to press, Fatah and Hamas seemed edging towards an agreement that would allow for the formation of a Palestinian national unity government.
However, delegations from both groups meeting in Cairo on 14 June failed to agree on the identity of the next Palestinian prime minister who would head a government made up of independents, technocrats and professionals acceptable to the two groups. Sources close to the two sides spoke of a meeting scheduled next week between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal to mint the new government.
That meeting would take place in Cairo on 21 June, a top Fatah official was quoted as saying. "Today, during the talks between the Fatah and Hamas delegations, a meeting was scheduled for next Tuesday between President Abbas and Meshaal to finalise the formation of the new government," said Azzam Al-Ahmed at the talks. "They also decided that this meeting will be the last to finalise the issue of the government," he told the press.
The failure so far of the two main political camps in the Palestinian political arena to translate their reconciliation pact into tangible facts on the ground has generated dismay and anxiety among Palestinians, prompting many activists to wonder whether the agreement was a mere show lacking in substance.
Earlier this week, Fatah chose incumbent Salam Fayyad as its candidate for the premiership. Fatah leaders argued that Fayyad is the safest choice given the fact that he is independent, internationally accepted and would guarantee the continued influx of mainly Western financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, an entity lacking political and economic sovereignty.
However, Hamas, which has rejected Fayyad for the premiership, argued that the West-leaning prime minister had a "black record", especially with regards to security coordination with the Israeli army, mainly against Hamas, and that he stood at the helm of a government that practised torture and violated the basic human and civil rights of Palestinians.
Some Palestinian observers argue that regardless of the identity of the next Palestinian prime minister, his government will be an interim one and that it would be unwise to allow this sticking point to abort the Palestinian reconciliation process.
One Palestinian commentator from Bethlehem described the disproportionate contention over the issue as reflecting a stunning lack of political immaturity on both sides.
"In the final analysis, this is a non-issue; do they think that whoever is going to be prime minister will have powers that would enable him to conquer the world? He would still be the prime minister of a quasi government that lacks sovereignty and is subject to the Israeli will and restrictions," said Hamdi Faraj.
Meanwhile, Hamas is coming under intense pressure from its grassroots supporters who have complained that the PA security agencies are continuing to detain Hamas supporters for "the most trivial of reasons".
On 13 June, PA security forces in Nablus suppressed a demonstration by dozens of men, women and children protesting against the continued imprisonment of their sons and relatives who are affiliated with Hamas.
The protesters carried placards and signs reading "The people want the PA to free political detainees". Another placard read "Releasing the detainees is the real test for the success of the reconciliation agreement."
A spokesman for the PA said the demonstration was suppressed because it was held without a prior permit from the police.
Some of these grievances were echoed by Ismail Ashkar, the deputy head of Hamas's bloc in the Palestinian Legislative Council. He argued that leaving the "political incarceration file" to the end could torpedo progress on other files. "Discussion of the issues should assume a parallel rather than a sequential nature, because all the issues are interrelated."
Another Islamist leader, Salah Al-Bardawil, refused to accept the assumption that Hamas's rejection of Fatah's choice of Fayyad as prime minister could threaten national reconciliation between the two groups. "There is no real correlation between this issue [Fayyad] and national reconciliation. National reconciliation is our strategy and ultimate goal, but there are certain red lines that we must observe and refuse to cross."
One positive factor militating in favour of a successful conclusion to Hamas-Fatah talks in Cairo is the realisation of both sides that failure would only benefit Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who remarked last week that he prayed that national unity talks between Fatah and Hamas would fail for the sake of the continuation of the peace process.
Netanyahu pointed out that Israel would offer concessions to Abbas in the case the PA decided to sever ties with Hamas and re-establish the rift between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
Israel is worried that with Hamas taking part in the Palestinian national decision-making process, the overall Palestinian bargaining position would be stronger and that Israel would be unable to wrest the far-reaching concessions it covets from a PA leadership that is more vulnerable to its diktat.
Hamas, many observers have noted, has succeeded in forcing Fatah to adopt stronger stands on the fundamental issues of Jerusalem and the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees uprooted from their ancestral homeland when Israel was established more than 63 years ago.