Yet another reconciliation bid
Many but not all greet the Doha Declaration on Palestinian reconciliation, while time will tell whether it will ever be implemented in full, writes Saleh Al-Naami
Click to view caption|
Palestinians carry the body of Abdel-Kareem Abu Zeituneh, 71, who was killed by Israeli airstrikes on Gaza Strip
Reporters tried in vain to get Salah Al-Bardawil, member of the politburo and media spokesman for Hamas, to comment on the Doha Declaration signed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal. The deal mainly focussed on forming a technocrat government headed by Abbas.
Al-Bardawil's refusal to answer calls from reporters was especially noteworthy because he has a mandate to express the group's position, and refraining from comment reflected a state of uncertainty and division within the group about the Doha Declaration. It also revealed distinct and obvious disputes among the leadership of the group abroad, in the West Bank, and the majority of Hamas leaders in Gaza on the one hand, and a handful of its leaders in Gaza on the other. This made it difficult for Al-Bardawil to explain these contradictions.
Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister in Gaza, leading Hamas figures in the West Bank, abroad and in Gaza welcomed the declaration. But Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, a member of the group's politburo, and Ismail Al-Ashqar, chairman of the Security Committee in parliament, snubbed the Doha Declaration. Haniyeh stated that the leaders of the group support the declaration and went as far as thanking and praising Qatari mediation between Fatah and Hamas to reach the deal. He continued that his government was ready to implement the deal, adding that there is no reason for him to object to the agreement.
It is noteworthy that all Hamas leaders in the West Bank welcomed the deal since they viewed it as a positive move to end inter-Palestinian divisions. Sheikh Hamed Al-Betawi, a leading Hamas figure in the West Bank, argued there is "a national and legitimate benefit" from the declaration and hoped that it would end divisions among Palestinians. Indirectly commenting on the position of some Hamas leaders in Gaza, Al-Betawi said: "Palestinian principles are more important than any one Palestinian faction, and therefore Palestinian conciliation requires that we come together in one bunker. We must work on restoring our national unity since it shores up our ability to recover our usurped rights."
Despite welcoming the agreement, Al-Betawi -- who previously headed the Society of Palestine Scholars -- also focused on the fact that the Doha Declaration forces the Palestinian Authority (PA) "to stop arrests and interrogations based on political affiliation, job discrimination and shutting down institutions in the West Bank". Al-Betawi commiserated the fact that conciliation has not yet been achieved because of pressure by Israel and the US, and warned that these parties do not want Palestinians to unite.
Although Haniyeh and Hamas leaders in the West Bank welcomed the deal, Al-Zahhar did not hesitate in criticising Meshaal, raising doubts that the latter represents the group's positions. He accused Meshaal outright of signing an agreement with Abbas without referring to the group's "consultative" institutions. The reporters who spoke to Al-Zahhar were surprised with his sharp tone against Meshaal and his indirect accusations of Meshaal misleading Hamas's leadership. In order to validate his allegations, Al-Zahhar claimed that Hamas leaders would consult on the Doha Declaration, especially Meshaal agreeing to Abbas heading the technocrat government. He emphasised that before agreeing to this clause Meshaal did not consult any leaders inside or abroad.
Al-Zahhar denounced the fact that Meshaal agreed to Abbas heading the government "at a time when evidence is accumulating about [Abbas's] role in thwarting efforts to reach reconciliation." He described Meshaal's actions as "a wrong and unacceptable move that cannot be recognised or implemented".
Al-Zahhar's statements embarrassed him and further eroded his standing within the group, since several Hamas leaders in Gaza and the West Bank were quick to defend Meshaal's actions. Some were suspicious of Al-Zahhar's motives.
Ahmed Aatoun, an MP representing Jerusalem in the Palestinian parliament, said that Al-Zahhar's statements only express his personal view and not the group's position. Aatoun added that the Doha deal "will remain a commitment for all Palestinian players to adhere to" despite Al-Zahhar's objections, and denied Al-Zahhar's claims that Hamas leaders will consult on Abbas leading the next Palestinian government.
But even the most enthusiastic among Hamas about the Doha Declaration say it should be viewed as a comprehensive package, meaning that all stipulations to end division should be met and not just the formation of a technocrat government headed by Abbas. Ibrahim Radwan, who supports the Doha Declaration, stated that implementing the declaration essentially means resolving all outstanding issues, such as restructuring the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), overhauling security agencies according to professional and national criteria, holding legislative and presidential elections as well as elections for the Palestinian National Council. Also, resolving all other problems resulting from division, most prominently political arrests, not issuing citizens passports based on their political affiliations, and other matters.
Some Hamas leaders who support Doha, such as member of the politburo Khalil Al-Hayya, argue that Palestinian Basic Law must first be changed since the current law does not allow the president of the PA to become prime minister at the same time.
But Fatah leaders are satisfied with the deal, describing it as a success for Fatah and Abbas personally. Azzam Al-Ahmed, member of Fatah's Central Bureau, responded to Al-Zahhar's criticism by defending Abbas and saying that nothing in Palestinian Basic Law prevents Abbas from leading the cabinet. Al-Ahmed pointed out that the Palestinian political system is a presidential not a parliamentary one. He further criticised Al-Zahhar's objections, stating that the issue of Abbas forming the government was discussed with Hamas about one year ago, and that Abbas leading the cabinet at this point in time is "the ideal solution for the world community in light of international conditions and variables".
Sources told Al-Ahram Weekly that members of the transitional government will be announced after the PLO leadership meeting in Cairo in the second half of February and that Abbas will soon begin consultations to form the interim cabinet. The source continued that the PLO's leadership meeting is important since it will discuss several issues pertaining to reconciliation and Palestinian politics. It will also debate political positions in confronting Israel, especially after the failure of the exploratory meetings in Amman. He said that the Egyptian intelligence promised to exert more effort in removing obstacles on the path of implementing the reconciliation agreement and facilitating the work of the associated committees, especially on political detentions, passports and other issues.
It seems, however, that Abbas's biggest problem is not Al-Zahhar's objections to the Doha Declaration but Israel's reaction to the deal. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu demanded that Abbas choose between reconciling with Israel and reconciliation with Hamas. In a television interview, Netanyahu said that it is impossible for Abbas to reconcile with Hamas and at the same time negotiate with Israel. He urged the world community to put pressure on Abbas to prevent him from forming an alliance government with Hamas until the latter recognises Israel.
Nabil Shaath, member of Fatah's Central Committee, explained that the EU told the PA that it will not require Hamas to recognise Israel in order for the new government to be regarded as legitimate, but only that the next government declares its commitment to agreements signed between Israel and the PA.
A number of independent Palestinian analysts believe the Doha Declaration has several pitfalls. Hani Al-Masri, director of Al-Badael Studies and Research Centre, objected to Abbas being president and prime minister at the same time. "It is unacceptable that all these powers and mandates are given to one man, even for a short time," Al-Masri said, adding that asking Abbas to form the government "overturns the reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo which stated that the cabinet should include independent nationalist cadres, but Abbas is the leader of Fatah."
The Doha Declaration resulted in more loose ends than solutions for the Palestinian public that is seriously suffering from the repercussions of division. The biggest challenge facing those who signed the declaration is sidestepping foreign influence, since Fatah and Hamas have already signed several reconciliation agreements but these deals always failed the test of implementation.