President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas agreed on the make-up of a Palestinian unity government on Wednesday and will submit it to parliament for approval on Saturday, officials said.
The cabinet deal was reached when Abbas and Haniyeh settled on an academic with little security experience for the hotly-contested post of interior minister, which oversees key security services.
"We have finished all the issues relating to the formation of the government," Haniyeh said after talks with Abbas in Gaza.
Palestinians hope the deal will end fighting between the secular Fatah and the Islamist Hamas, and ease a crippling Western aid embargo of the Palestinian Authority, though it is unclear whether either goal will be accomplished.
As Abbas and Haniyeh were meeting, nine people, including two children, were wounded in another bout of factional violence between Fatah and Hamas.
The Europeans have adopted a "wait and see" attitude and Israel is concerned--with good cause, as it turns out.
The recent agreement between rival Palestinian groups that was put together during February, 2007 in Mecca under the guidance of Saudi Arabia, had the following preconditions imposed by the West (in particular, the "Quartet" of negotiators for peace in the region: the US, EU, UN and Russia) on a Palestinian "Unity" Government. It must:
• Recognize Israel's right to exist
• Renounce violence
• Accept past Palestinian peace accords with Israel and the UN
A translation of the document is here. In reading it, there seems to be a fundamental conflict between the two parts of the Mecca agreement ( the "principle part" and the l"etter of appointment"). The "principle" part, which deals with intra-Palestinian relations, includes an explicit commitment to the agreement by both sides.
In contrast, in the "letter of appointment" for the unity government, which deals with relations with Israel, there is no direct and explicit acceptance by Hamas for the provisions of the agreement. Instead, Abbas, as the president of the PA, calls on Haniya, as the prime minister of the PA, to "act in accordance with the decisions of the Palestinian National Council, the provisions of the Basic Law, the National Accord document the resolutions adopted at Arab League summits, U.N. resolutions, the consensus of the Arab states, and prior agreements signed by the PLO with Israel."
Abbas has since declared that the organizations participating in the future national unity government will not be obligated to the government's position; only the ministers will be obligated to these positions.
In return for acceptance of this diversionary tactic, Hamas has been granted political support and sponsorship from the PLO, as a government and as a future partner in the PLO.
With the Mecca agreement, the Quartet's (US, EU, Russia and the UN) demands have been only partially met, and it is likely that Abbas and Hamas believe that the Quartet's position will soften in the future and that it will settle for this partial acceptance.
Both Mahmoud Abbas and Khaled Mash'al have kept their followers from making statements to the media that could reveal the nature and the details of the agreement between them.
Here are some translated portions of the negotiatied agreement and of the letter of appointment :
"National unity is important as a basis for steadfastness on the national level, for rising up against the occupation, for actualizing the national and legitimate goals of the Palestinian people, and for adopting the language of negotiation as the only foundation for solving the political disagreements in the Palestinian arena."
"We are committed to the spirit and to the letter [of the agreement], so that we can now turn to attaining our national goals, to freeing ourselves from the occupation, to restoring our rights, and to tackling the main issues, which are first and foremost Jerusalem, the refugees, the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the prisoners, and dealing with the fence and the settlements."
Also, these reports from various news sources are relevant:
Hani Al-Masri, senior Palestinian Information Ministry official and columnist for the PA daily Al-Ayyam, wrote: "Fatah agreed to the wording [demanded by Hamas]... that states that the agreements of the PLO, the decisions of the Arab summits, and the U.N. decisions must be 'honored.' This wording is less strong than [saying] 'commitment' to the agreements and the decisions."
Abbas has also said:
"The exaggerated and subjective interpretations of the agreement or of one of its sections could change its basic aim. There is no need to elaborate in interpretation or commentary, since the agreement is about putting together a national unity government according to an agreed-upon and well-considered formula... Neither side has conceded to the other on political content or in the area of putting together the government... We will launch an extensive political campaign to remove the siege on our people and on our government..."
Ashraf Al-Ajrami, columnist for the PA daily Al-Ayyam, was more explicit:
"We must break the siege placed upon us that is causing injustice, and this demands a flexible political language that will maintain constructive ambiguity without the need for statements that aid Israel in its war against the Mecca agreement..." (emphasis mine)
Fatah spokesmen maintain that:
"political changes have begun in the Hamas members... Hamas's political view has begun to change, and it now stands in a different place than the one in which it stood a year ago [in early 2006]."
Thus, the Mecca agreement is said to be a "step forward", because in it Hamas seemingly commits to honor agreements signed by the PLO as well as the [Saudi] peace initiative and the U.N. resolutions. This is exactly what the Hamas and Fatah Players believe the international community want to hear.
However, it seems very doubtful that it is, in fact, true; and it is far more likely that the "constructive ambiguity" of the language of the agreement only makes it appear that way for the purpose of lulling the outside world and the key players in the US, Europe, Russia and the UN into believing some fundamental change has occurred in Hamas' position.
Indeed, the main purpose of the agreement appears to be to give the impression that Hamas has finally agreed to accept the general direction of the PLO's political plans, and that these plans do not constitute an obstacle in the Palestinian relations with the international community -- particularly the resumption of international aid (money).
It is important to note that Hamas' position with regard to the Palestinian people has been deteriorating ever since they were elected to run the government. The ongoing violence between the Palestinian factions has resulted in a worsening of conditions for the already-beleaguered Palestinians and a catastrophic cutting off of funding from the International community. Hamas desperately wants the international community to view it as a reasonable participant in the Palestinian state and not as a terrorist group. But, at the same time, it is not willing to give up terrorism and violence to do that.
Instead, it has opted for "ambiguous language" to give the impression that its spots have changed.
For example, in an interview with the London daily Al-Hayat, a spokesperson for Fatah suggested that with the Mecca agreement, Hamas had in actuality recognized Israel and that Hamas need not declare its explicit and legal recognition of Israel and Fatah also need not do this. And that each faction was entitled to retain its own special ideology and platform as long as they are committed to national unity.
Such phrasing allows the Unity Government to have its cake and eat it too and gives it room for diplomatic maneuvering with the international community, while in effect not altering anything. In fact, it permits the Unity Government to suggest that the West's refusal to continue its financial support or its general unhappiness with regard to Palestinian actions is--after the Mecca Agreement--"no longer a Palestinian problem, but the West's problem."
In other words, the Unity Government can say they gave the West what it wanted, without actually giving it what it wants. The beauty of "ambiguous language" at work!
One very interesting point is that Hamas also apparently agreed to accept "the Arab legitimacy." This is a new term, which refers to the decisions of the Arab summits, including the 2002 Beirut summit at which the Saudi peace initiative was ratified. Up until now, Hamas had not agreed to accept this initiative. But note that it sets Saudi Arabia and the "Arab" summits above the Iranians who are in competition with the Saudis for influence and control over the region.
Hamas spokesman Isma'il Radwan said:
"The agreement with Fatah on the national unity government, which includes an undertaking to honor prior agreements signed by the PLO, does not mean recognizing Israel. The positions of the Hamas movement are permanent and known - no recognition of the legitimacy of the Zionist entity... The government is not required to recognize Israel. The PLO recognized [it], but that is its own business. Hamas will join the PLO on the basis of new standards based on reshaping the PLO and non-recognition of the legitimacy of the occupation."
"Hamas remains steadfast in its principles, and has not retreated. Hamas will not recognize Israel, will not abandon the resistance, and will not relinquish its principles."
Khalid Mashal, the Hamas leader states:
"Hamas is adopting a new political language. The Mecca agreement is a new political language [spoken by] Hamas, and honoring the agreements is [also] a new language, because there is a national need and we must speak a language appropriate to the time, and in the framework of an outlook that is shared by all factions. Nevertheless, each faction will retain its own political belief."
The Mecca Agreement serves to--in the words of a Palestinian Legislative Council member and writer for a Hamas publication: "Secures the Internal Front So We Can Address the Zionist Front" (translated from a Hamas report)
Publically, Khaled Mash'al is quoted (in a London newspaper in English): "The Agreement Gives an Opportunity for Significant Achievements - And When They Are Attained, It Will Be an Important Step on the Way to Achieving Peace In the Region"
Let me predict that the "new" improved unity government of the Palestinians represents no significant change in either Hamas' or Fatah's policies toward Israel or peace in the region, except insofar as they have agreed for the time being to cease hostilities between each other and focus instead on Israel.
It is simply more of the same dancing by the key Palestinian players in Hamas (Mashal and Haniya) and Fatah (Abbas)--all of whom have demonstrated repeatedly that they are not particularly invested in a Palestinian state as much as they are invested in Jihad and the destruction of Israel. Abbas, being the most acceptable to the international community is the "face" of this new agreement, and his main efforts have been to obscure the reality of its nothingness for the purpose of getting financial support flowing again from the EU and the US.
Besides Hamas, who hopes to get its stream of funding back so it can return once again to terror, the big winners of the Agreement may actually be Saudi Arabia, who are anxious to override the growing influence of Iran on events in Palestine.
We will have to wait and see if this new peace fantasy manages to connect with the real world and is a "first step" toward peace in any way, shape or form. The international community has an overabundance of wishful thinking, when it comes to the Palestinians; and unfortunately, their hopes have always been badly misplaced.
I suspect that this time it will not be much different.
UPDATE: From the news this morning:
Palestinian leaders struck discordant notes on how to deal with Israel on Saturday as parliament met to usher in a unity government intended to halt factional fighting and ease a crippling Western aid embargo.
President Mahmoud Abbas stressed the search for peace, while Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of the Islamist Hamas movement said the new coalition government upheld the right to "all forms" of resistance against Israel.
Israel again ruled out dealing with the new government, citing Hamas's refusal to accept demands, set by a Quartet of foreign peace mediators a year ago, that it forswear violence, recognize the Jewish state, and accept past interim peace deals.
"We're not going to work with this government," said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's spokeswoman Miri Eisin.
"This government does not recognize our existence, it does not recognize the treaties, and most important, does not in any way renounce terror," she declared, seizing on Haniyeh's remarks about resistance.
But with international impatience mounting over the diplomatic impasse, Fatah-Hamas violence and deepening Palestinian poverty, there have been signs of Western flexibility on talking to non-Hamas members of the new cabinet.
And so, onced again the West will very likely be "flexible" and give into the beasts who make up the Palestinian leadership (and who are the true descendents of Arafat); nothing will change; and the death and destruction will continue so that all can be happy in their respective delusions.