Al-Ahram Weekly Online   23 - 29 June 2011
Issue No. 1053
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Hamas-Fatah discord on Fayyad persists

Mahmoud Abbas continues to insist on Salam Fayyad as the next Palestinian prime minister, by all appearances to appease Washington, writes Khaled Amayreh

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Palestinian demonstrators run from tear gas fired by Israeli soldiers during a demonstration against Jewish settlements in the northern West Bank village of Iraq Burin, near Nablus

A meeting between Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, which was due to take place on Tuesday, 21 January in Cairo, has been postponed until further notice amid continuing disagreement between the two sides over who will be the new Palestinian prime minister.

The postponement of the meeting, which Palestinians hoped would have paved the way to the formation of a national unity government, was requested by the Fatah leadership. Fatah sources said the postponement was necessitated by Abbas's insistence on choosing Salam Fayyad as the next prime minister.

Hamas is firmly opposed to Fayyad serving as prime minister of the unity government, accusing the Western-backed premier of carrying out an Israeli-American agenda that is harmful to Palestinian national interests and hostile to the Islamist movement.

Moreover, Hamas doesn't have good chemistry with Fayyad whose government it accuses of hounding, persecuting and incarcerating its supporters in the thousands, mainly in order to appease Tel Aviv and Washington.

However, despite the obvious setback in reconciliation efforts between the two camps, officials from both sides have sought to downplay continuing differences, saying that an agreement to form the next Palestinian government was only a matter of time.

"The matter needs more discussion and deliberation. Disagreements are natural but they are not the end of the road," said Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Hamas-run government in Gaza.

However, Hamas publicly rejected assertions by Abbas that he has a prerogative to choose the prime minister who would then form a government of independents or technocrats. In an interview with a Lebanese TV station, Abbas said "We want a government that will take us forward not push us backward."

"The next government wouldn't be that of Hamas or Fatah, and if that government failed in its mission, I, not (Hamas leader) Khaled Meshaal, would be responsible for the failure."

During the same interview, Abbas admitted that some Hamas supporters were being arrested in the West Bank but added that the arrests were not politically motivated.

The Palestinian leader also pointed out that in case his plan to seek UN recognition of Palestinian statehood in September doesn't succeed, perhaps due to American intervention, the Palestinians would resort to other alternatives he declined to name.

"I won't say now what we would do in this case, but we won't resort to armed struggle, because armed struggle has destroyed us," he said.

Hamas's spokesman in Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, criticised what he called Abbas's unilateralism, saying that Abbas's behaviour with regards to the formation of a new government was incompatible with both the letter and spirit of the reconciliation agreement struck between Fatah and Hamas.

"President Abbas says he will choose the next prime minister and that the government would only be answerable to him, but this is not in line with the reconciliation agreement," Zuhri said.

According to Palestinian sources, the Abbas leadership is coming under immense pressure and facing threats from the Israeli government and also the Obama administration to suspend or at least minimise the rapprochement with Hamas.

The Israeli threats reportedly include withdrawing VIP status from leading PA officials, including Abbas himself, freezing monthly payments of tax and customs revenue -- which Israel collects on the Palestinians' behalf -- to the PA government, and re-imposing harsh restrictions on Palestinian movement.

Israel has also threatened to take even more draconian measures against the PA in case the latter decided to seek international recognition at the UN, with the extremist Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warning that the Jewish state would absolve itself from all commitments under the Oslo Accords.

For its part, the Obama administration is advising Abbas "to see to it that the rapprochement with Hamas doesn't go too far."

According to sources associated with the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), which is a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, Abbas recently intimated to Egyptian intelligence, the main sponsor of the Palestinian reconciliation process, that Washington had asked him to choose between Fayyad as prime minister and losing American financial support and political backing.

In his speech before the powerful Israeli lobby AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) in Washington a few weeks ago, President Obama said: "The recent agreement between Fatah and Hamas poses an enormous obstacle to peace."

However, the US president, who many observers thought was mainly trying to curry favour with pro-Israel lobbyists, didn't demand the abrogation of the reconciliation pact outright.

Some pro-Israeli circles in Washington have been trying to convince Obama's close coterie of aides and advisors that his chances of winning a second term will depend to a large extent on doing Israel's bidding, especially with regards to two main issues: preventing the PA from seeking UN recognition for a putative Palestinian state; and thwarting Palestinian reconciliation efforts.

Israeli and pro-Israeli officials in the US arena are worried that according Hamas influence, by allowing it to have a say in the Palestinian decision-making process, would radicalise the PA leadership and force it to refrain from making far-reaching concessions to Israel, especially on such fundamental issues as Jerusalem and the plight of Palestinian refugees.

Israel is also worried that the "rehabilitation" of Hamas would cause Israel to lose a key propaganda card, which would undermine Israel's international standing.

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