Arab News (Editorial)
June 1, 2009 - 12:00am§ion=0&article=123122&d=1&m=6&y=2009

The six people who have been killed in a firefight between Hamas fighters and Palestinian policemen is not only the worst clash in the West Bank since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip two years ago. The deaths also served as a grim reminder that it is not just Benjamin Netanyahu who stands in the way of peace. The Palestinians themselves are doing a fairly decent job of hampering their own aspirations.

Solving Fatah-Hamas differences is seen as an essential step if a Palestinian-Israeli peace deal is to transpire, but the former has yet to happen. Nearly two years ago, Hamas took over power in Gaza, saying that it had no other choice since Fatah was blocking it from exercising the legitimate power it had won in free elections. Since then, five rounds of talks have been held over the past three months in Egypt, with little or no progress. The bone of contention is the restructuring of security forces in both Gaza and the West Bank. Fatah insists that a joint force of 15,000 members be established to assume security responsibility throughout the Gaza Strip. Rejecting the proposal, Hamas proposes an overall restructuring of PA security forces in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Fatah is not prepared to discuss restructuring the security agencies in the West Bank, saying only Gaza's security agencies need restructuring on a new and different basis. Hamas rejects this, saying that since West Bank security agencies fall under a "nonnational" authority, they are the ones that need to be restructured.

Fatah also wants Hamas to affirm the government's commitment to agreements reached between the PA and Israel, whereas Hamas insists on replacing the term "commitment" with "respect". Then there is the demand by the Abbas camp that any unity or national reconciliation government would have to recognize Israel. For Hamas this is an absolute red line for ideological and political reasons. The recognition demand is the same as issued by Netanyahu who will surely be met with the same position from Hamas.

And on elections, Fatah wants a proportional representation electoral system to be used, whereas Hamas is for continuing the current scheme that combines proportional and district-based systems.

A new Palestinian government sworn in last month looks unlikely to serve national aspirations. The government was apparently created without national consensus, and the absence of a comprehensive national political platform that would end the inter-Palestine dispute as well as the Israeli occupation is evident. Indeed, from the start the new government, despite its rhetorical proclamations against Israel, has failed to impede Israel's efforts to expand Jewish colonies in the West Bank, especially in the Jerusalem area. Help in this regard might come from the Obama administration that is currently fighting for the same cause.

The two factions are supposed to meet again in Cairo at an undetermined date but Egypt has warned that it will not continue to serve as an open guesthouse forever and that it may eventually be forced to present compulsory bridging proposals that the two sides must accept.

Cairo has set July as deadline for Fatah and Hamas to find common ground and sort out their differences. But achieving a breakthrough is difficult, not least because the parties are constantly exchanging reformulated proposals.


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