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Hamas-Fatah Unity Talks


The unity talks that began today in Mecca must succeed, as all sides have vowed. They are held in the holy city of Mecca, and King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia has put his prestige on the line for the success of the negotiations. On the other hand, as Danny Rubinstein points out in Haaretz, there is little chance that they can succeed.

Rubinstein writes:

Nobody expects any agreement to turn Palestinian society into a Western democracy overnight, however, and that is not the critical issue that must be resolved.

The big issues, mostly ignored by Rubinstein should be understood clearly by anyone seeking to evaluate whatever agreement comes out of this summit:
Does the agreement meet Quartet and EU standards to allow the renewal of aid to the PNA and make the PNA into a peace partner once again? As Rubinstein notes this is one huge hurdle. Hamas and Fatah may come up with a formula that satisfies Palestinians, but it is not clear that that formula will satisfy the Quartet and the donor countries. A vague reference to "abiding by past agreements" may not be enough. Real agreement to a peace process would require revocation of the Hamas charter, which calls for destruction of Israel by violent Jihad. Both violence and destruction of Israel are forbidden according to the roadmap.

Who has the power over the budget in the PNA? - Unless all the money is handled transparently, there is no way to overcome charges of corruption and there is no way to check that funding is not being used to purchase arms and hire more thugs, which seems to be the major allocation for much of the funding reaching the PNA at present.

Who is in charge of security? - At present of course, there are several competing groups in charge of security, all officially recognized and funded. Some work for Hamas, some work for Fatah. This is partially responsible for the utter chaos and internecine fighting which has taken many lives in recent weeks.

Will violence against Israel continue? - The lowest common denominator basis for Palestinian unity is the Prisoners' Letter, which states its support for continued "resistance" to the occupation. Cessation of violence is a condition of the roadmap. Truly nonviolent resistance would of course still be permitted. Even if an agreement about this issue is reached, it doesn't seem likely to be implemented.

Are armed groups going to be disarmed? - In addition to the security forces, Palestinian factions maintain armed groups that carry out terror operations against Israel, and in recent weeks, terror operations against each other. Fatah el Aqsa, Izzedin el Qassam and others regularly shoot at each other and sometimes at Israelis. In Palestinian society, political power literally grows out of the barrels of guns. Until these groups are disarmed, and until there is a unified security command, there little chance that any agreement can be kept, or that there can be any real democracy.

Will the Hamas become a member of the PLO, and on what basis? - This issue is related to acceptance of Israel as a partner for peace. However, there are other issues involved, because PLO membership for Hamas will change the character of both the PLO and the Hamas, and it will necessitate major power-sharing concessions by the Fatah movement.

Can there be successful negotiations for prisoner releace? - Israeli-Palestinian talks cannot get underway in earnest unless there is a reasonable (or even unreasable) deal for releasing the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit. Until now, progress in this direction has apparently been vetoed by Hamas, because of opposition of Khaled Meshal. That is the opinion of Egyptian President Mubarak.

Will Hamas become independent of Syria and Iran? - This is the really crucial question. As long as Hamas is dependent on Syria and Iran, there is little prospect that it will support an American or European-inspired peace effort, because both Syria and Iran are opposed to such an effort.

A likely and rather gloomy outcome is that the talks will result in a photo opportunity and perhaps an "agreement." This agreement, even if it is kept, and even if it is satisfactory to the donor countries, will not result in any real progress. Hamas after all, can meet all of the requisite conditions, and still try to veto any peace agreement whatever. The Prisoners' Letter calls for return of the refugees and 1967 borders. Abbas and the Fateh will never be able to come up with a peace agreement that includes those conditions. While they are opening gambits for moderates, they are probably minimal conditions for Hamas. Therefore, Hamas is in a good position to agitate against any agreement, because it would ahve to violate the conditions of the Prisoners' Letter.

Ami Isseroff

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Replies: 1 Comment

As I see it there are two issues:
1) Creating a hospitable envirornment for negotiations and for willingness to sign peace.
2) Negotiating a final agreement.

Ami, you tried to address this below by seperating the negotiations on the two issues. But there are several problems.

1.1) There is no chance the the Palestiians will disarm their organizations and little chance that they will stop terrorism while the negotiations are taking place, since they currently believe in continued armed 'resistence'. Even if there is a ceasefire -- which is something Abu-Mazen will try to accomplish while he's negotiating -- it is doubtful that the organizations will abide by it long, and there is little doubt that they will use it to get more weapons and prepare for resumptiom of the conflict.

1.2) At present the strategy of the Israeli army to prevent terrorism from the West Bank involves the fence, roadblocks, and daily incurrsions into the Palestinian areas to arrest suspects. This method is considered a violation of a ceasefire by the Palestinians, and justifies terrorism, but it has also been quite successful in allowing the Israelis to live with an acceptable level of terrorism. An Israeli government and people are unlikely to risk exchanging this method for Palestinian promises, nor will they be willing to turn a blind eye (as was done during Oslo) to continued Palestinian military buildup, even during a ceasefire, or terrorism, even if just by 'extremists'. Especially considering that any failure (or success for that matter) of the peace process can result in a resumption of violence. The Israelis will not want to find themselves fighting the Palestinians after they had build up an aresenal of bombs, missles and guns in the West Bank too.
So we have an impasse, neither side dares take the actions that are necessary to create a more hostibitable environment for negotiations, especially considering that neither side has much faith that negotiations will acheive peace. Since:
2.1) The current Israeli government is not willing to offer the Palestinians acceptable terms for peace, nor is it politically capable of doing so, nor is a political shift to the left likely in the present political climate.

2.2) Abu-Mazen may be willing to offer acceptable terms to the Israelis (I don't know), and he may even sincerely believe that once such a deal is signed it will be accepted and implemented despite the current situation among the Palestinians, but he is politically incapable of saying anything or doing anything to prmote acceptance to these terms. Instead he must continue supporting the Palestinian consensus -- armed resistence, right of return, no actual acceptance of Israel. Nor is Abu-Mazen willing or capable to try another Oslo in which he will get a Palestinian state in temporary borders and try to make it work in order to improve the overall situation. He is too afraid (correctly) that the Israelis will try to make it permanent.
So we have an impasse here too.

It's like a puzzle in which none of the pieces can be moved because they are blocked by others. What's he solution?

Posted by Micha @ 02/10/2007 04:45 PM CST

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