Saturday, April 30, 2011

Questions about "Hamas-Fatah reconciliation"

Big news today about a reported “Hamas-Fatah reconciliation” deal. What does it mean? First, here’s what we know from Reuters:
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement has struck an agreement with bitter rival Hamas on forming an interim government and fixing a date for a general election, officials said Wednesday.

The surprise deal was brokered by Egypt and followed secret talks between the two sides, who fought a brief civil war in 2007 that left the Islamist Hamas in control of the Gaza Strip and the Western-backed Abbas in charge of the West Bank.

Forging Palestinian unity is regarded as crucial to reviving any prospect for an independent Palestinian state.

“We have agreed to form a government composed of independent figures that would start preparing for presidential and parliamentary elections,” said Azzam al-Ahmad, the head of Fatah’s negotiating team in Cairo. “Elections would be held in about eight months from now,” he added.

Ordinary Palestinians have repeatedly urged their leaders to resolve their deep divisions, but analysts had long argued that the differences between the two sides on issues such as security and diplomacy were too wide to bridge.

Mahmoud al-Zahar, a senior Hamas leader who participated in the talks, said the agreement covered five points, including elections, forming an interim unity government and combining security forces.

“We also discussed activating the Palestinian Legislative Council, the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) as well as forming a government consisting of nationalist figures to be agreed upon,” Zahar told Al Jazeera television in an interview.

He also said Hamas and Fatah agreed to free prisoners held by each side.
What does any of this mean? At this point, neither side has published the text of an agreement - and certainly Palestinians have a right to see one; they have had enough of secret deals and understandings.

Some immediate questions that come to mind and give rise to skepticism:
  • If there is an agreement on a joint “government” how can it possibly function without Israeli approval? Will Israel allow Hamas ministers be able to operate freely in the occupied West Bank? Will PA officials be able to move freely between the West Bank and Gaza? Israel is effectively at peace with the current Abbas wing of the Palestinian Authority and at war with Hamas. Impossible to see how such a government can operate under Israeli occupation. If anything this proves the impossibility of democracy and normal governance under Israeli military occupation.
  • In The Palestine Papers, the main concern of Ramallah officials was always to maintain Western financial aid to the PA, and not to make any agreement with Hamas that would jeopardize American and European financing for the PA. Has the Abbas PA overcome that fear, or have they reached understandings with donors that would allow Hamas to join a Palestinian Authority “government”?
  • Integration of security forces. Currently, Hamas in Gaza and the Abbas-run PA in the West Bank operate rival security forces. The Abbas security forces cooperate openly with the Israeli occupation including “welcoming” and hosting the Israeli chief of staff, as described by the PA’s Nablus governor yesterday. The Abbas forces are financed and supervised by the United States and their purpose has explicitly been to fight Hamas. Hamas’ forces by contrast are viewed as an enemy by Israel, and are frequently subject to military attacks and extrajudicial executions by Israel. Can such opposing forces really be combined without the Abbas side either renouncing its close ties to the Israeli military, or the Hamas side abandoning any commitment to resistance?
  • Elections: What is the point of having elections in the West Bank and Gaza Strip once more under conditions of brutal Israeli military occupation, siege and control? Neither the West Bank government nor the Gaza government are truly in control of the fate of Palestinians. The power lies in Israel’s hands. As I wrote recently, such elections only further the illusion of self-governance while doing nothing to challenge or change actual Israeli control. And, when there is so much political repression in the West Bank, and indeed in Gaza, how can we have a guarantee of free elections?
  • Reform of the PLO: If Hamas and Abbas made a deal to reform the PLO which just includes adding Hamas to the dead body of the PLO how will that serve the Palestinian people? What about elections for the Palestinian National Council that include ALL Palestinians, including the majority which does not live in the 1967 occupied territories? A deal where Abbas and Hamas make a cozy deal to share seats in an undemocratic PLO is simply unacceptable.
  • More broadly, the goal for Palestinians should not be “unity” among factions, but unity of goals for the Palestinian people. What is the purpose and platform of the planned “transitional government” other than merely to exist? A real Palestinian strategy that unites all segments of the Palestinian people has been articulated by the BDS movement:
(a) an end to occupation and colonization of the 1967 territories; (b) full equality and an end to all forms of discrimination against Palestinians in the 1948 areas (“Israel”); and (c) full respect and implementation of the rights of Palestinian refugees.

Notably neither Fatah Abbas nor Hamas have endorsed this campaign, and neither has articulated a realistic strategy aimed at restoring the rights of all Palestinians.

Your thoughts? Comment below!


The White House has now commented on the reported “unity” deal. From Reuters:
“The United States supports Palestinian reconciliation on terms which promote the cause of peace. Hamas, however, is a terrorist organization which targets civilians,” White House spokesman Tommy Vietor said in a statement.

“To play a constructive role in achieving peace, any Palestinian government must accept the Quartet principles and renounce violence, abide by past agreements, and recognize Israel’s right to exist,” he said.
This indicates that the US position opposing Palestinian unity except on terms acceptable to Israel and the United States, has not softened. Given this, it’s very difficult to see this going very far.