Monday,23 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)
Monday,23 July, 2018
Issue 1195, (1-7 May 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Reconciliation, belated and tenuous

Is the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement a political gambit on Abbas’s part? Some believe so, while others don’t believe it will stick, writes Ahmed Al-Sayed in Gaza

Al-Ahram Weekly

After seven years of animosity during that saw the failure of several reconciliation attempts, Fatah and Hamas officials finally came to a deal, but analysts are sceptical about its future.

The reconciliation deal calls for the formation of a national reconciliation government within five weeks and for legislative and presidential elections about six months later.

Political analyst Abdel-Razek Abu Jazar said that the deal could help both sides cope with their recent troubles. It may give President Mahmoud Abbas a chance to consolidate his power, now threatened by his failure to reach a peace deal with the Israelis. And it will give the besieged and bankrupt Hamas a chance to regain prominence in Palestinian politics.

The rift between Fatah and Hamas started when the latter swept most of the Palestinian Legislative Council seats in January 2006. When fighting erupted in Gaza in June 2007, Hamas created its own runaway government.

Over the years, attempts to reconcile the Palestinian Authority based in Ramallah and the Hamas government based in Gaza consistently failed. The two such attempts were a reconciliation deal brokered by Egypt in May 2011 and another brokered by Qatar in February 2012.

“President Mahmoud Abbas wants to turn a new leaf,” Abu Jazar pointed out. But other observers claim that Abbas may not be convinced that this deal will stick, but rather is using it to prod the reluctant Israelis into reaching a viable peace deal. Long-running talks with the Israelis collapsed a few weeks ago when the Israelis refused to release a batch of prisoners, demanding that Abbas agrees to an extension of the talks in advance.

Abbas may have other objectives in mind. He may be seeking to consolidate his authority through the holding of nationwide elections in both the West Bank and Gaza for the first time in years. During recent talks with the Israelis, some Israeli officials questioned Abbas’s authority, saying that he cannot guarantee the implementation of any future deal.

Abbas was elected as president in 2005 and his term expired five years ago. But Palestinian divisions impeded the holding of new elections.

Hamas was perhaps more desperate to reach a deal than Abbas was. It is running out of money, having lost the considerable revenues it used to receive from tunnel trade with Egypt. It has lost the support of Muslim Brotherhood allies in Egypt, who were thrown out of power after one year in office. And its former allies in Damascus and Tehran are no longer interested in helping it out, having enough troubles of their own.

The economic situation in Gaza is dire, with government officials late in getting their salaries for sixth months running and a population of 1.8 million deprived of the cheap fuel, food and building material that used to come from Egypt.

Ron Ben-Yishhai, military correspondent for Yedioth Ahronoth, believes that Hamas is the biggest winner of the agreement, which may pave the way for its joining the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and taking part in Palestinian mainstream politics.

But seven years of rift cannot be mended overnight. The governments of both Ramallah and Gaza have their own security services, which will be hard to merge. And many people who rose to prominence in the years of separation may be reluctant to lose their power in a unified nation.

Ahmed Youssef, once political adviser to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyyeh, said that the cooperation of the security services in the West Bank and Gaza would be essential for the success of the joint government.

“Unless the (security) services of Fatah and Hamas... support the interim government, it will fail,” he said.

Then there is the issue of salaries to government employees. Gaza has 50,000 employees who are appointed by Hamas and another 70,000 employees who remained loyal to Ramallah. Restructuring the government may be too politically sensitive, and keeping the entire body of employees in their jobs is too expensive.

Munib Al-Masri, a businessman and member of the PLO reconciliation delegation, said that a technical and administrative committee will be discussing this question, adding that “no one will be dismissed.”

If the deal is implemented, a new government should take office within five weeks. But some say that five weeks is long enough for disgruntled parties to cause enough trouble to scuttle the reconciliation agreement.

Khaled Al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad official, said that the five-week period “is enough for those who don’t want the reconciliation to take place to take negative measures and obstruct the reconciliation.”

Israel and the United States object to the deal.

The Israeli mini-cabinet decided to pull out of the peace talks and also freeze the transfer of taxes revenues — which Israel collects on behalf of Ramallah — as of May.

Although Israeli intelligence officials said the deal was unlikely to stick, the Israeli prime minister lashed out at Mahmoud Abbas, saying that he chose Hamas over peace. Netanyahu called on Abbas to sever ties with Hamas and go back to the negotiating table.

He added that Israel cannot possible negotiate with someone who is allied with a “terrorist group committed to Israel’s destruction”.

On Saturday, Abbas said that he was willing to extend the peace talks with Israel if the latter were to release Palestinian prisoners, freeze settlements and agree to discuss future borders. Abbas reassured the Israelis that in a government that he leads, there would be no one seeking Israel’s destruction.

“My future government will follow my policies. I recognise the State of Israel and renounce terror and violence. I also recognise international law, and my government will implement international agreements,” the Palestinian president said.

Israel, unconvinced, issued a statement claiming that Abbas has “fired a mercy bullet at the peace process”.

Washington described the reconciliation agreement as “unhelpful”, but urged the Palestinians and Israelis to go on talking.

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