David Miller
The Media Line (Opinion)
April 28, 2011 - 12:00am

The memorandum signed by the Fatah and Hamas movements on Wednesday, aimed at ending a four-year-old political division, creates as many problems as it solves, experts warned.

The agreement calls for an interim Palestinian government of technocrats, followed by presidential and parliamentary elections one year after the agreement is signed on May 4. But the agreement leaves out a lot of critical issues to the Palestinian future, including Palestinian statehood, the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, control of security forces and the future of Western financial aid to the Palestinian Authority (PA.

Although Fatah and Hamas have been bitter enemies, Palestinian analysts said they were optimistic the agreement would be implemented. The fact that Israel and the U.S. oppose an agreement with Hamas, which they designated a terrorist organization, counts for little these day in Palestinian decision marking, said Sameeh Hamoudeh, a political scientist at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah.

"Fatah has despaired of international approval," Hamoudeh told The Media Line. "Today Fatah is more inclined to please the Arab world, which has pushed for a compromise."


One of the main stumbling blocks facing Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Fatah-controlled PA, in his bid for international recognition of Palestinian statehood has been the lack of political control over the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. With a unity agreement in hand, Abbas will be able to come to the world as president of a single Palestinian entity, as prescribed by the Oslo accords signed with Israel.

But there is a drawback: Abbas and his prime minster, Salam Fayyad, have been working for the past two years to bring Palestinian institutions up to international standards for good government. This month the UN and the International Monetary Fund both gave the PA a seal of approval. Now with Hamas sharing power, the PA will have a harder case for saying it is meeting the benchmarks.

Palestinian analysts said, however, they are optimistic Abbas can get around the good government problem because the unity agreement calls for the joint cabinet to be filled by technocrats, rather than movement activists, Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, told The Media Line.

"It will not be a factional government, but a professional one," he said.

Peace Talks

Following the unity deal, the prospect of resuming negotiations between Israel and the PA seem more distant than ever before. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said immediately after the unity accord was announced that the PA would have to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned on Army Radio on Thursday that Palestinian unity would inevitably lead to a Hamas takeover of the West Bank.

For its part, Hamas also declared that negotiations could not take place in the coming year while an interim government is in power before elections are held. "Our program does not include negotiations with Israel or recognizing it," Gaza-based Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahar told Reuters.

But Abusada said Palestinian unity could actually revive the frozen peace process. Hamas, he predicted, will agree to be part of the framework of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), the umbrella group of Palestinian movements officially charged with conducting talks with Israel.

"Palestinian unity will push Israel to negotiate," he said. "Israel has so far used Palestinian division as a pretext not to negotiate. Now it has no excuse."

But, taking the line that the Palestinians are no longer so interested in pleasing the West, Hamoudeh of Bir Zeit said he thought unity removed any prospects for negotiations. "The peace process is a dead body," he said. "Only if the Palestinians display a tough stance will Israel eventually soften."


The security issue is probably the greatest unknown element of the unity deal. Hamas' reluctance to integrate the security apparatus it has built in Gaza into the PA security forces was one of the main factors that impeded an agreement until now. As part of the agreement, Hamas has demanded to establish a "high security committee" by presidential decree, but the committee's responsibilities remained unclear.

Commenting on the security question, Fatah official Azzam Al-Ahmad, who brokered the deal on behalf of Abbas was extremely vague. "We have a law governing service in the security forces," he told the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam. "We [Fatah and Hamas] have reached an understanding between us, but [Palestinian] law is still paramount."

Sabri Saidam, a senior Fatah member and adviser to Abbas, said security issues would not be dealt with immediately. “The issue will be left until post-elections and post formation of the government," he told The Media Line.

Abusada said Hamas is interested in maintaining a ceasefire along the Gaza border with Israel, adding that although direct security coordination did not exist between Israel and Hamas, indirect contact could be maintained through third parties.

"Over the past two years Hamas has shown its commitment to calm," he said.

Hamoudeh said that following reconciliation, security coordination with Israel will be of less importance, since Hamas' violent resistance will die down. "Today's security coordination serves Israel alone," he said. "From now on the PA will focus on running the daily lives of Palestinians as the armed resistance loses its legitimacy."

Western Aid

The Palestinian Authority relies heavily on foreign aid, scheduled to receive close to one billion dollars in American and European foreign aid in 2011. The aid is not only critical for financing the PA but has given a lift to the West Bank economy, which remains otherwise hamstrung by political uncertainty and Israel controls of the movement of people and goods.

The Quartet, a diplomatic framework comprised of the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia, has conditioned the removal of Hamas from its terrorist list on the latter's recognition of Israel, its acceptance of previous agreements signed between the PLO and Israel, and stopping cross-border violence.

A new unity government could jeopardize Western funding of the Palestinian Authority, but Saidam, Abbas' adviser, said so long as the interim government functioned under Abbas' mandate and acknowledged previous agreements with Israel, international funding of the PA would continue.

On Wednesday, U.S. Democratic Congressmen Gary Ackerman and Nita M. Lowey threatened to cut American funding to the PA following the unity agreement which did not force Hamas to recognize Israel.

"A unity government with Hamas would put U.S. assistance and support at risk," said Lowey, who serves on the House Foreign Aid subcommittee. “I strongly urge the leadership of the Palestinian Authority to reconsider forming a unity government with Hamas and to instead return to negotiations with Israel."

Hamoudeh said Congress would be wise to support Palestinian unity rather than unconditionally adopt Israel's rejectionist stance.

"You cannot exclude a large chunk of the Palestinian people," he said. "Hamas is part of the solution. The PA will never return to the armed struggle, but Hamas will be forced to compromise."


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