Elliott Abrams
Council On Foreign Relations (Blog)
May 22, 2012 - 12:00am

Last Sunday in Cairo, Hamas and Fatah signed an agreement to create the national unity government to which they agreed in principle months ago in Doha. They will meet on May 27 and have given themselves ten days to negotiate a new coalition that would then carry out elections.

This announcement is interesting and potentially significant, but not in obvious ways.

First, it was brokered by the Egyptian General Intelligence Service. This is a significant display of the continued vigor of that organization and its influence on the Palestinian parties.

Second, it shows a continuing determination on the part of the Fatah old liners and Hamas leaders to sideline PA prime minister Salam Fayyad. In fact this is just about the only goal upon which they agree. Hamas does not want an effective PA government because they wish to rule, themselves; Fatah wants Fayyad out of the way so that Fatah big shots can get more jobs and end Fayyad’s long fight against corruption.

The goal of this new effort is supposedly elections, which are long overdue. But neither Fatah nor Hamas wants elections any more than they want real national unity; they just want to appear to support that goal, which is popular among Palestinians, and they want Fayyad out. Logically, then, they may announce an agreement, though it will be a very costly one: many donors, Western and Arab, will hold back on delivering funds once Fayyad is gone. But what they will not do is hold parliamentary or presidential elections, which neither Hamas nor Fatah leaders think are in their interest right now.

There’s a good chance that the May 27 talks will not reach a deal, given the hatreds that separate Hamas and Fatah, and a better chance that a deal will be reached and Fayyad replaced. If the latter happens, that “unity deal” will break down after a few months–and before elections are held. This will get the Palestinians through 2012, which is the larger goal of the leadership right now. The benefits of all this maneuvering to the Palestinian people are, of course, non-existent.


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