Arab News (Editorial)
February 9, 2012 - 1:00am

The new deal signed in Qatar on Tuesday follows on from last May’s agreement in Cairo, where both sides seemed on the brink of coming together. That process foundered because Hamas rejected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ choice of Salam Fayyad as prime minister in the new coalition administration. Fayyad, who has very effectively restructured the security forces on the West Bank, has now been dropped from the ticket.

For his part, Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal has accepted President Abbas as head of the coalition government whose full make-up will be announced in Cairo on Feb. 18. In this position Abbas will oversee elections across Palestine, elections in which he has pledged not to stand again for the presidency.

There are parts of the deal that are of concern to both sides. Within the Palestinian Authority there will be questions about the unified security forces that were agreed in Doha. It was Hamas security men who drove Fatah police out of Gaza in 2007. How the two organizations can now merge poses many problems, other than the fact that they are separated by Israeli territory. Meanwhile, among some Hamas supporters there have been immediate complaints that Meshaal was not authorized to ink a deal unilaterally and that he should first have obtained consent in Gaza.

The reaction of the Israelis has, of course, been entirely predictable. Dreading a unified Palestine with whom they would have to negotiate seriously on a peace settlement, they have threatened to withdraw from the current peace process. This may not seem much of a threat since that is what effectively the Israelis have already engineered because of the Netanyahu government’s continued construction of illegal settlements on the West Bank and in Jerusalem. There is a stark reality, which long years of experience should alert both the Palestinians and the international community who want a just and lasting peace in the region; the closer the Palestinians come together, the more vigorously the Israelis will try to sow dissent and tension. They have plenty of buttons to push, from agent provocateurs and spies in the Gaza and the West Bank to the targeted murders of key Palestinian players. If worse comes to worst, they could even claim a renewed campaign of Palestinian rockets and once again begin a murderous bombardment of Gaza. They have done it before. Why not again ?

Knowing this, rejectionists in both Palestinian communities, should be thinking hard about how firmly they should oppose the Doha deal. Their prime concern ought to be do nothing that will play into the hands of the hard-line Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

If the new Palestinian coalition can hold together until presidential and parliamentary elections are conducted among all Palestinians at some point this year, then whoever wins will have received a democratic mandate which the outside world cannot ignore a second time. It was Washington’s purblind refusal to accept the Hamas victory in 2006 that compounded Palestine’s tragedy and also exposed President George W. Bush’s enthusiasm for democracy as the hypocritical sham that it was.

The internationally accepted two-state solution, to which even the Israelis are nominally committed, can only come about when there is unity among the Palestinians. What happened this week was a step in the right direction. It would be totally unrealistic not to expect faltering and fumbling ahead; there has been so much bitterness and blood between the rival factions. Nevertheless the only victory that either side can win for the Palestinian people will come through peaceful negotiation. It is time to stop the awful, self-inflicted wounds on the country’s legitimate ambitions for statehood.


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