Monday,20 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1254, (9 - 22 July 2015)
Monday,20 August, 2018
Issue 1254, (9 - 22 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Reconciliation falters

Despite efforts to bring Fatah and Hamas — and Gaza and the West Bank — together after years of division, little has been achieved since the 2014 Al-Shatie accord, writes Ahmed Al-Sayed from Gaza

Al-Ahram Weekly

A year after Fatah and Hamas, the two main Palestinian factions, decided to form a government of national accord, little has been achieved by way of uniting Palestinian ranks, reconstructing Gaza or formulating a common strategy for statehood.

The government, formed basically of technocrats, has had no real authority to achieve the tasks it was assigned and, with continued mistrust between Hamas and Fatah, policy recommendations and executive action have been conflicted and mostly ineffectual.

To solve the problem, mediators have been going back and forth between Ramallah and Gaza, trying to put together a government, not of national accord this time, but of national unity.

These talks have faltered, and a frustrated Abbas last week ordered his prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, to bring a few ministers into his government as part of a “slight reshuffle.”

It is not clear yet what Abbas hopes to accomplish by his move.

But if it is a political gimmick to get negotiations restarted in earnest between the two groups, it may have worked. Mediators from minor groups connected with Fatah and Hamas said that the only way forward is through further “dialogue”.

What lies at the root of the current squabbles is more than just disagreement over the government. Many other issues remain unresolved, such as the integration of Hamas administrators into the new government, integration of Hamas security forces into the official police force, and the secret talks Hamas is said to be having with Israel.

The latter is of particular importance, for if these talks — of which more rumour is known than fact — work out, Hamas may not need to have any dealings with its rivals in Fatah anymore. It could just turn Gaza into a mini-state and keep on ruling it the way it always has, albeit with less “resistance” against Israel, for the duration of an open-ended truce that the talks could potentially bring about.

A week ago, Abbas told Hamdallah to form a government that can “carry out its national responsibilities in all Palestinian areas.” Since then, Palestinian analysts made it clear that no effective government can operate without the endorsement, and active involvement, of both Fatah and Hamas, currently in control of the West Bank and Gaza respectively.

Here is what the current government had promised to do, and failed: reconstruct Gaza; end the siege on Gaza; prepare for general elections; and integrate administrative agencies across the West Bank and Gaza.

Can the addition of four or five ministers fix any of the above problems? Few believe that to be the case. In recent talks, Hamas made some conditions. It wants the new government to be a task-oriented government without a political programme; pass a vote of confidence in the Palestinian Legislative Council; and integrate Hamas administrative appointees immediately and without conditions within its agencies.

When it comes to political decision-making, Hamas leaders claim that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Executive Committee should no longer be in charge. All decisions, Hamas insists, should be made by the PLO Temporary Leadership Framework (TLF). The TLF comprises the secretary-generals of all Palestinian factions, the presidency of the Palestinian National Council and members of the PLO Executive Committee.

Hamas sources say that should Abbas insist on going solo, the movement will not recognise the new government and will react with “firm” political action of its own. Some Hamas officials even described the “slight reshuffle” Abbas has ordered as a “coup”.

Speaking to Beirut-based Al-Quds TV a week ago, Hamas politburo member Mousa Abu Marzouk said, “Any ministerial change in the reconciliation government must go through the Hamas movement for approval, or it will not be recognised.”

Abu Marzouk, who is in charge of all negotiations with Fatah, said that Hamas will not allow a “vacuum” to appear in Gaza, regarding the security personnel or government employees. He added that all employees are still going to their offices, although their salaries haven’t been paid.

The “slight reshuffle” Abbas has promised is expected to involve the interior, agriculture, national economy, education and local government ministries. Local media named the prospective appointees as Hazem Atallah (Fatah) for interior, Jawad Al-Naji (Fatah) for economy, Ahmed Majdalani (Popular Struggle Front) for local government, and Ali Al-Jarbawi (technocrat) for education.

Fatah officials claim that Hamas is no longer interested in national unity, but in reaching a deal with Israel that would consolidate its hold on Gaza. Hamas and Israel are reportedly holding indirect negotiations about a five-year truce deal that would end hostilities, lift the siege and give Gaza a seaport. If the deal goes through, Hamas will have no further incentive to reconcile with its PLO rivals.

Fatah Central Committee member Azzam Al-Ahmed, who has been at the centre of the talks about the government of national unity, is sceptical about Hamas.

“Hamas has high hopes for the secret negotiations it is holding with the Israelis,” he said. “It wants to establish an independent entity in Gaza.”

Al-Ahmed told Voice of Palestine radio that Hamas “obstructed the formation of a national unity government with the conditions it made.” He continued, “We reached an impasse because, I believe, Hamas doesn’t want a government of national unity to form.”

He added that Hamas has no desire to relax its grip on Gaza, saying, “Hamas has a shadow government of its own and ... doesn’t recognise the government of national accord, or abide by its laws and regulations.”

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri dismissed these accusations as unfounded. “The consultations on the formation of the government haven’t started yet,” he said. “The PLO Executive Committee has ... no right to make unilateral decisions about any Palestinian matter.”

The government of national accord was formed on 2 June 2014 in implementation of a deal signed at the house of Ismail Haniyeh on 23 April 2014. The deal, commonly known as the Al-Shatie deal (because Haniyeh lives in Al-Shatie Refugee Camp), calls for: an end to the siege on Gaza; reconstruction of Gaza; preparations for legislative and presidential elections; reorganisation of the security services; and joint administration of the West Bank and Gaza.

As evidenced by the past year, the government failed to achieve any of the objectives, either because Hamas failed to cooperate with Fatah, as the PLO claims, or the other way round, as Hamas and its friends say.

During its administration of Gaza, which began in summer 2007, Hamas appointed nearly 40,000 employees in administrative and security duties. These employees replaced the 70,000 employees that remained loyal to Ramallah’s government, and who stopped going to their offices but received their full salaries.

Now Hamas appointees still go to work, with frequent interruptions to press for payments and for integration in the new administrative structures. Hamas cannot pay their salaries, and the PLO hasn’t done much to integrate them or compensate them in any substantial manner.

To end the current stalemate, negotiators from minor Palestinian factions are urging Fatah and Hamas to go back to the negotiating table. Islamic Jihad leader Khaled Al-Batsh said that the “way to overcome all obstacles is to meet and talk directly, not hold dialogue from afar.”

There is a need to “start a national dialogue that is genuine and serious among various Palestinian national factions, to start the implementation of the 2011 Cairo agreement on full partnership,” Al-Batch said.

Rabbah Mehanna, a member of the Palestinian Front for the Liberation of Palestine politburo, urged the TLF to start holding regular talks, in Cairo or any other venue, to resolve the current crisis.

Yasser Al-Wadiya, a TLF member, said that a cabinet reshuffle is not the answer, and could make things even worse.

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