Hamas eager to form unity government

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Palestinians shouts slogans and wave their national flag during a demonstration supporting a new attempt to reconcile the militant Islamist movement Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Gaza City on May 14, 2014. (Photo: AFP-Mahmoud Hams)

By: Orouba Othman

Published Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Gaza: Palestinian rival factions, Fatah and Hamas, recently announced a landmark political pact. With two weeks left to form a new government, Azzam al-Ahmed, a Fatah central committee member in charge of the reconciliation file, is visiting Gaza for further deliberations. Though the pact lacked new incentives, Hamas was compelled to accept it due to prevailing circumstances. While Hamas continues to deny the existence of such circumstances, internal and regional political developments obviously confirm it.

Hamas seems eager to implement the reconciliation agreement with Fatah as soon as possible. Though Moussa Abu Marzouk, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, denied that the group’s financial troubles forced it to approve the agreement, statements by Gaza-based leader, Salah al-Bardawil, who called to speed up the government formation, suggested otherwise.

In this time of political and security instability in the Arab world, Hamas arrived to the negotiations table burdened by internal and external struggles, and exhausted due to political and financial hardships with former allies and geographic neighbors.

The other side, Fatah, was not doing much better either. President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas chose reconciliation following a deadlock in the negotiations with the Israelis, and internal disputes within Fatah.

Today, Hamas seems keen to put the reconciliation agreement forward. The Gaza government has been taking many measures concerning freedoms and political arrests, while the West Bank’s authorities appear to be delaying or totally ignoring dealing with such issues.

A few months before the reconciliation, Hamas took the initiative to free a number of Fatah prisoners, however the latter did not respond with a similar step. Despite the recent agreement, security forces in Ramallah are still acting as the reconciliation never happened and continue to arrest and summon Hamas and Islamic Jihad members.

Also, Hamas took the initiative and lifted the seven years ban on West Bank newspapers. A few days later, Fatah allowed Gaza’s papers to be distributed in the West Bank.

According to observers, the main challenge concerns the establishment of a technocrat government led by Abbas and holding the presidential and legislative elections within six months. Meanwhile, other thorny issues such as restructuring the security forces and repairing the Palestinian Liberation Organization shall be postponed until after the elections.

Azzam al-Ahmed, a Fatah central committee member in charge of the reconciliation file, is expected to launch a new round of negotiations with Hamas in Gaza today.

“During my two day visit, I will meet with Hamas leaders to discuss the formation of the new government,” Ahmed said, expecting to announce the unity government within two weeks.

Other Palestinian factions that weren’t involved in political strife, as well as common citizens, fear that the reconciliation process will be impeded, mainly because only 14 days are left to form the new government. They are also particularly worried about American and Israeli intervention.

Fatah official, Yehya Rabah, stressed that the reconciliation is an integral agreement, “its first pillar is the formation of a technocrat government, then holding the elections to renew the Palestinian legitimacy and put forward a new Palestinian political system.”

“After the government formation, all other issues will be addressed. The president and ministers appointed after the elections will deal with the security forces and other unresolved issues based on the Cairo and Doha accords,” Rabah further explained.

Meanwhile, Mustafa al-Bargouthy, a member of the PLO delegation who is also involved in the reconciliation process, had a different position. “How can we go to elections without resolving these issues, mainly political arrests?” Barghouthi asked, revealing that there are 40 political prisoners in the West Bank and that the authorities are still summoning others.

In an interview with Al-Akhbar, Barghouthi called to settle the issue of security bodies before the elections. “It is important to gradually integrate security forces starting with the civil defense and the police, then the preventive security forces, national security and intelligence services,” Barghouthi said.

Despite careful optimism expressed by officials and observers, Hamas’ main challenge is about reaching a common political agenda with the Palestinian Authority, which deems the peace process as the best option to resolve the conflict with Israel and to end the occupation.

Israeli media quoted deputy foreign minister in the Hamas government, Gazi Ahmed, as saying that his group’s approval of a state within 1967 borders is temporary “but it is the main pillar for reformulating a Palestinian national agenda and it is an important common issue with Fatah.”

Meanwhile, Rabah didn’t see substantial differences between Hamas and Fatah. He quoted Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal, who said in 2011, that they would accept a Palestinian state within 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital. Rabah also quoted him as saying that Hamas “is ready to give a chance for negotiations if held under Abbas’ terms.”

Political analyst Hani Habib agreed. He said that the differences are not political, but rather concern the division of shares. “Hamas hailed Abbas’ recent speech in front of the central council when he said that the agenda of the unity government will be in the framework of his own negotiations program,” Habib elaborated.

“Hamas is getting ready to break the political embargo and is willing to approve any agreement that brings it back to the political arena,” Habib said in an interview with Al-Akhbar, adding “the reconciliation doesn’t involve influencing the armed opposition because it has been transformed into a truce in Gaza and a security coordination, which is still going on in the West Bank.”

Both parties insist that the future government doesn’t have any political agenda, even though it is to be headed by Abbas, the pioneer of the settlement project. They stress that the government’s role will be restricted to managing administrative issues in the West Bank and Gaza, while the political agenda will remain in the hands of the PLO.

Moustafa al-Barghouthi distinguished between three main missions that the future government is expected to accomplish: managing people’s everyday life, preparing for the coming elections, and dealing with the repercussions of the internal conflict that prevailed in the past few years.

According to Barghouthi, the issue of recognizing the state of Israel by the new government is not being discussed. “the Palestinian Authority’s institutions (PLO) is the only body required to recognize Israel, but no Palestinian faction or government has to recognize the occupation,” he said.

Meanwhile, observers warned that the unity government may be subjected to conditions set by the international quartet, which include recognizing Israel, rejecting violence and committing to previous agreements, a statement recently reiterated by Suzanne Rice, US national security adviser, in her meeting with Abbas in Ramallah.

In the meantime, Palestinians still remember the international boycott of the Palestinian government headed by Ismail Haniyeh in 2006 because it didn’t abide by those conditions. The government was unable to pay salaries, leading to a major crisis that eventually caused national divisions.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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