Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party and Hamas have signed a unity accord.
Under the agreement signed April 23, the factions are to form a unity government in four or five weeks, according to reports citing Palestinian officials. Fatah and Hamas representatives met April 22 and 23 in Gaza to hammer out the deal. The “national reconciliation” talks aimed to put an end to the bitter rift between Fatah and Hamas since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007.
The unity government will be headed by Abbas, and made up of technocrats, with a view toward holding Palestinian elections in about six months.
“Today’s meetings are the most significant in years,” said Ahmad Abu Houly, a member of parliament for Fatah in Gaza. “It has been agreed that in four weeks from now, we are going to form a unity government that would be responsible for some important issues, including rebuilding war-torn Gaza and preparing the ground for elections.”
He said the crucial issue of the future of the security forces has been postponed in a concession from Hamas. Both Fatah and Hamas have several different security forces composed of thousands of members, and it is hard to conceive of either side dismantling its forces.
Hours after the reconciliation agreement was signed, Israel canceled a scheduled meeting between its peace negotiator and the Palestinian team.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Abbas must choose between peace with Israel or Hamas. Hamas is classified as a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union.
“Instead of moving into peace with Israel, he’s moving into peace with Hamas,” Netanyahu said of Abbas. “He has to choose. Does he want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel? You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace; so far he hasn’t done so.”
The two Palestinian groups formed a unity government in 2006 that lasted about a year. — jta, ynetnews.com & the media line
Q&A with PLO’s Hanan Ashrawi
Hanan Ashrawi has served in Palestinian governments, and she is a former spokes-person for the Palestinian delegation to the Mideast peace talks, beginning with the Madrid Conference in 1991.
The Media Line: This is not the first reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Are you optimistic?
Hanan Ashrawi: It’s encouraging, but the real proof remains in the follow-up and implementation. The attitude on both sides is quite positive, they’re showing commitment, and Hamas has expressed its willingness to act in a very constructive manner. So from our side, from the delegation that we sent, they are quite hopeful and encouraged by this.
TML: Two signed agreements between Hamas and Fatah have gone without implementation. What’s different now?
HA: I don’t know if it’s recognition that if you can’t stand together, you fall separately, but there’s a sense of urgency. I think Hamas in some ways understood that it cannot continue to be isolated in Gaza and outside the Palestinian legitimacy. If it wants any recognition in standing, it has to be part of the system, not outside the system.
TML: One of the biggest sticking points has been Hamas’ reluctance to give up control of the Gaza Strip. How will the power-sharing work?
HA: We don’t look at power-sharing as divvying up the spoils. It should be based on democratic principles and practices: elections. And we have to restore the sense of public service rather than privilege or benefit, to the issue of leadership. But all this should be done in the context of reforming, revitalizing and reactivating the PLO and its institutions.
TML: Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has said that the Palestinian Authority has to choose between reconciliation with Hamas or peace with Israel.
HA: It’s not mutually exclusive. It’s not either/or. We are preparing our own political system, our own democracy. We are working towards self-empowerment. This has nothing to do with negotiations or the lack thereof. Israel should not decide who is legitimate and who is not in Palestine. I don’t think the unification should have an impact other than strengthening the Palestinians to withstand all the pressures.
TML: What role would you like to see Jordan play?
HA: Jordan is not a bystander or a neutral party even though it does have a peace agreement with Israel. Jordan is a Palestinian ally. Not just that, but it’s really a crucial component of Palestinian statehood and stability in the region. So it can play a positive role in strengthening Palestine, protecting Jerusalem — in particular the holy places, holy sites — and bringing its political weight to bear in terms of its dealings with the U.S. and the West as well as in the Arab context. So we are hoping for a closer relationship than we have now. The more we understand that we are two neighboring states with territorial integrity and sovereignty, the better it is for both of us and Israel should not try to play any games in that direction. — the media line