Media Mention of Ghaith al-Omari in Dar Al-Hayat - April 26, 2009 - 12:00am

The Lebanese Model that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referred to last week as a possible mechanism to work with a Palestinian unity government is becoming less likely due to the numerous odds against Hamas and Fatah in reaching an agreement.

Clinton in two hearings before the House Foreign Affairs and the Appropriations committees last Wednesday and Thursday offered a strong defense of the administration position to send aid to a Palestinian Unity government even if it includes Hamas and as long as it complies with the Quartet principles. The Secretary cited Lebanon as one example of such mechanism, telling the committee "we are currently funding the Lebanese government, which has Hizballah (members)…it is in the interest of the United States to support a government that is working hard to prevent the further incursion of extremism." This model has been pursued by Washington since 2005, whereby it sustained aid to the successive Lebanese governments, yet at the same time by boycotting the Hizaballah members in the cabinet, a group (like Hamas) is considered by the US a terrorist organization.

On the Palestinian side, however, this approach hinges primarily today on the success of the Cairo talks between Hamas and Fatah that started four months ago, and continue with pressure from Egypt and Saudi Arabia on both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Hamas leadership to reach an agreement. Secretary Clinton raised doubts about this prospect telling congress "there doesn't seem to be one in store at the moment".

Clinton's skepticism is shared by observers and Arab diplomats involved in the talks. Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow at the American Task Force for Palestine sees "very slim chances for a unity government", mainly due to "Hamas refusal to endorse the Quartet principles" (renouncing violence, recognizing Israel, and endorsing past Palestinian agreements with Israel). Al-Omari cautions that a "government that does not accept those conditions will bring isolation to the Palestinians", something which Abbas and the current Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, are "not willing to risk" at the moment. The expert, who was a former adviser to Abbas, alludes to the "wide ideological gap between Hamas and Fatah and the lack of a common ground between the two" especially after Hamas military takeover of Gaza in June 2007, and its "unwillingness to relinquish it today."

Al-Omari adds that renouncing violence and recognizing Israel are major differences between the Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and makes the case that "Hamas is not ready to abandon" those ideological stances and pay political price that the Palestinian Liberation Organization has paid in 1988.The Obama administration, however, has maintained that the Unity government as an independent political body and not Hamas, should comply with the Quartet principles, made clear by Secretary Clinton "our belief is that if the government
complies with it, that is what we're looking for". Hizballah members in the recent Lebanese government agreed to a Cabinet Statement endorsing UNSCR 1701, calling for "no paramilitary forces, including (and implying) Hizballah, will be south of the Litani river".

Divisions inside Hamas between the hardliners in the diaspora especially the Syria-based leadership of Khaled Mashaal and the more moderate line in the territories put extra strain on the ongoing negotiations. Al-Omari asserts that the leadership of the group in Damascus constitutes the "power center" of Hamas. Secretary Hillary Clinton touched upon those divisions in her hearing Thursday telling congress that "there are some divisions between the Hamas leadership in Gaza and in Damascus. There's no doubt that those in Damascus take orders directly from Tehran. But we do believe that there has been some efforts to try to get more authority and opportunity on the part of those in Gaza."

Reviving the peace process regardless of the outcome of the Cairo talks is something that Arab diplomats have been advocating in Washington and during the recent visit of King Abdullah II of Jordan. Al-Omari emphasizes that a successful Peace process sponsored by the Obama administration, will force "Hamas to modify its positions in fear of being left out". However, concerns of Hamas playing the "spoiler" or going farther to the extreme while out of government are keeping the pressure on the talks, in hopes to see Hamas "inside the game" and in a unity government.

Joyce Karam Al-Hayat - 26/04/09//


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