“This is the good news we have to tell the people: the era of discord is ended”
This posting has these items:
1) Reuters/Haaretz: Abbas: Palestinian unity government will recognize Israel, condemn terrorism, Jack Khoury from the Palestinian perspective;
2) MERIP: Six Questions for Mouin Rabbani, interviewer with one of the most perceptive and knowledgeable observers of Israel/Palestine relations;
3) Twitter: @Gershon Baskin tweets some good questions from the man who negotiated the release of Gilad Schalit and has long been involved in peace negotiations;
4) Ynet: Hamas official: Violence against Israel to be discussed in unity talks, brief interview with Ghazi Hamad;
5) Haaretz: Why is the Palestinian reconciliation driving Israel into a panic?, Zvi Bar’el on what brought Hamas and Fatah together and the mood in W. Jerusalem;
6) Guardian: Fatah and Hamas agree landmark pact after seven-year rift, Peter Beaumont and Paul Lewis report on the delighted cheering in Gaza when Haniyeh announces the end of the years of discord and the sourness in Israel and the US;
7) Al Jazeeera: International Hamas-Fatah unity agreement challenges U.S. Mideast efforts, despite headline, a more nuanced report;
8–Time: Palestinian Unity Deal Met With Skepticism, Karl Vick on the sceptics and optimists;
9) Tikun Olam: Netanyahu, Kerry Make Peace…Between Palestinians! , some original points from Richard Silverstein,incl. reaction of jihadist groups;
10) Haaretz: Palestinian unity exposes Netanyahu’s true face, David Landau looks at the face revealed when Bibi’s mask is pulled off;
11) The Elders: The Elders applaud Palestinian unity agreement , most positive response yet;
12) Notes and links: Who are The Elders;
Azzam Al-Ahmed (L), a senior Fatah official, and head of the Hamas government Ismail Haniyeh (C) and deputy speaker of Palestinian Parliament Ahmed Bahar, Hamas, at the reconciliation meeting in Gaza City. Photo by Reuters
Abbas: Palestinian unity government will recognize Israel, condemn terrorism
But Palestine Liberation Organization alone will be in charge of negotiations with Israel, Palestinian president says, adding that he is ready to extend talks in return for prisoner release, settlement freeze.
By Jack Khoury and Reuters, Haaretz
April 26, 2014
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said on Saturday the unity government with Hamas would recognize Israel and condemn terrorism, but he said that Palestine Liberation Organization alone – and not the new government – will be in charge of the negotiations with Israel.
Abbas said he was still ready to extend the stalled peace talks, as long as Israel met his long-standing demands to free prisoners and halt construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Abbas responded to criticism that his party is reconciling with a terror organization saying that Israel had also made agreements with Hamas during the presidency of Mohammed Morsi in Egypt.
Israel suspended the troubled, U.S.-brokered negotiations with Abbas on Thursday after he signed a unity pact with rival Islamist group Hamas – a movement which has sworn to destroy Israel.
Commentators said the discussions had already hit a brick wall before the reconciliation, and the United States had been struggling to extend them beyond an original April 29 deadline for a peace accord.
Abbas, for the first time since the suspension of talks, said he was still open to re-starting the negotiations and pushing on beyond the deadline. There was no immediate response from Israeli negotiators.
“How can we restart the talks? There’s no obstacle to us restarting the talks, but the 30 prisoners need to be released,” Abbas told a meeting of senior leaders in the Palestine Liberation Organization at his presidential headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
President Abbas speaks during a meeting with the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council in the West Bank on April 25, 2014. Photo by AFP
“On the table we will present our map, for 3 months we’ll discuss our map. In that period, until the map is agreed upon, all settlement activity must cease completely,” he told the officials, who were gathered for a two-day conference to assess the Palestinian strategy to achieve statehood.
“Without these conditions, we will tell Israel to go ahead and take responsibility over the West Bank and the daily affairs of the Palestinians” Abbas said.
Talks veered toward collapse after Israel refused to release a final group of Palestinian prisoners it had pledged to free in March, and after Abbas signed several international treaties – a move that Israel said was a unilateral move towards statehood.
Palestinians accused Israel of not focusing enough during the last nine months of negotiations on drawing future borders between Israel and the future state of Palestine, and they denounced the expansion of Jewish settlements on Palestinian lands.
By The Editors, MERIP
April 24, 2014
Yesterday in Gaza representatives of Hamas and the Palestine Liberation Organization announced a blueprint for talks about forming a government of national consensus (Arabic text [Ma’an news] here). Hamas and the PLO’s dominant Fatah faction have been at loggerheads, and occasionally at war, since 2007, when the Islamist movement expelled Fatah security men from their Gaza posts and took over the coastal strip. The political antipathy is far older, of course, and was sharpened greatly by the willingness of President Mahmoud ‘Abbas and his Ramallah wing of the Palestinian Authority to countenance and assist the international blockade of Gaza that was tightened like a vise upon Hamas’ victory in 2006 legislative elections. Since then, there have been parallel PA administrations in the West Bank and Gaza, with Hamas kept outside the periodic attempts to revive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations on a comprehensive peace. Another such attempt commenced earlier this year under the auspices of Secretary of State John Kerry, who set an April 29 deadline for an agreement. Israel reacted to yesterday’s news by canceling a working negotiators’ meeting that was slated for the evening. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “It’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist,” and hinted that US aid to the Ramallah PA might be in jeopardy.
We asked our contributing editor Mouin Rabbani, a veteran observer of the Palestinian political scene, for his thoughts.
Hamas and Fatah have made efforts at reconciliation before, to no avail. Is this time for real?
It will be real if and when, and only if and when, it is implemented. The number of things that can go wrong, and developments that can lead one or both parties to reconsider their commitments, are numerous. It bears mention that many sober analysts and observers, and proponents of reconciliation, were at best conflicted about the meetings that produced this agreement because they were absolutely convinced the negotiations were either not serious or would fail, and would therefore deepen the schism.
That said, there are also reasons to consider this agreement more serious, or at least more conducive to implementation, than its predecessors. These include:
The agreement was signed with the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip rather than the external leadership. Previously, and particularly after the Doha agreement signed by Mahmoud ‘Abbas and Khalid Mish‘al, opposition to reconciliation arrangements within Hamas has been led by powerful elements in the Gaza leadership, in part in keeping with their struggle to gain the upper hand within the Islamist movement, and in part because as the actual rulers of the Gaza Strip they have the most to lose in terms of power, governance and interests. This time most of the key players, including Isma‘il Haniya and Mahmoud Zahhar, personally signed the agreement. The Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip increasingly holds the balance of power within the movement and has the capacity to thwart reconciliation. The exile leadership has much less leverage these days on such matters and is in any case more open to such agreements.
Signing the reconciliation agreement b/w Fatah and Hamas in #Gaza now. Pic via @yassirashour.
Second, each of the rival parties is experiencing a serious crisis. For Hamas, the problem consists primarily of the military overthrow of the Muslim Brothers in Egypt, the loss of its base in Damascus and consequent reduction of Iranian support, and pressure on the Brothers throughout the region. According to some reports, the pressure might culminate in loss of Qatari sponsorship. Egypt’s unprecedented hostility to Hamas has furthermore led to a virtual shutdown of the border crossing into Gaza Strip — particularly below ground. The government in Gaza is facing growing difficulty running the economy and, more important, experiencing budgetary problems as well.
For Fatah, the latest round of US-sponsored negotiations with Israel have produced new lows as Kerry has aligned the American position closer to the Israeli than any of his predecessors. Mahmoud ‘Abbas’ commitment to continue discussions with Israel despite every latest outrage left him more unpopular and isolated — even within his core constituency — than at any time since taking office. In terms of the regional situation, Hamas’ loss has not necessarily been Fatah’s gain either. The initial euphoria in Ramallah about the coup in Egypt, for example, has dampened considerably because it has also led to the reemergence of Muhammad Dahlan, erstwhile Fatah strongman in Gaza. One important motivation for ‘Abbas with this latest agreement is to forestall the prospect of a rapprochement between Hamas and Dahlan, which would have given the latter a base within the Occupied Territories from which more effectively to challenge ‘Abbas.
I also think the absence of Egyptian mediation should lead us to take this agreement more seriously. Hamas and Fatah reached it bilaterally because each of them had an interest in doing so, as opposed to going through the motions to please a powerful sponsor that itself had vested interests in the form and results of the agreement.
Netanyahu recently said that the Ramallah PA can either have peace with Hamas or peace with Israel. How do you interpret that statement?
Not seriously. Simply stated, there can be no peace or even meaningful negotiations with Israel with Netanyahu at the helm. It would be wrong to say he has failed to make an acceptable offer to the Palestinians or that the maximum he is prepared to concede falls short of the minimum ‘Abbas could accept. The fact of the matter is that his government is so extreme and so confident of American backing that it has not even made a bad offer. Israel has, for example, refused to present a proposal on borders to the Palestinians during the past nine months — and this refusal in negotiations purportedly about a permanent settlement.
I think Netanyahu’s statement should be interpreted as part of the so-called blame game, of who will be held responsible by the Great White Father in Washington for further obstacles or a potential collapse (which I consider unlikely) of the process. Israel will say things went south because ‘Abbas preferred to consort with “terrorists” rather than negotiate. ‘Abbas will now point to Israel’s decision to call off talks in response to the agreement. In the surreal world of Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, such issues are apparently important, particularly in light of Kerry’s April 9 Congressional testimony that explained the chain of events leading to the current impasse and made quite clear it was the result of Israeli rather than Palestinian action.
More broadly the statement is a bit rich coming from Netanyahu, given that his major achievement in the current talks has been Kerry’s adoption of Israel’s position of “negotiations without preconditions.”
Abbas recently said that “preparations” for resumed talks under the Kerry aegis could proceed after the April 29 deadline has passed. Does today’s news portend the official death of those talks (and perhaps the Oslo framework)?
One thing I find suspicious about this agreement is its timing — it transpires only days before the expiration of the April 29 deadline. Some have interpreted this fact as further evidence that ‘Abbas has already decided to withdraw from the Kerry mission in a few days, and will pursue internationalization and reconciliation instead.
Perhaps. Alternatively, the agreement is a desperate roll of the dice, a shot across the bow if you will, through which Abbas hopes to light some fire under Kerry’s posterior in the hope and expectation that the latter will now cajole or compel the Israelis to give the Palestinians something to enable them to return once more to the negotiating table.
If ‘Abbas has indeed already made his peace with the end of the peace process in its current form that would of course be a wonderful and significant development. I however consider that very unlikely, particularly if it’s seen as a strategic decision lasting more than several weeks.
If this agreement is by contrast simply a scare tactic for the attention of the Americans, that would be tantamount to a guarantee that the schism will deepen considerably, making it that much more difficult to resume talks on reconciliation at a later stage. Hamas will have been hoodwinked and used as a crutch by ‘Abbas to limp into the negotiating chamber with Netanyahu, and will assume his negotiators are acting in bad faith the next time they visit Gaza.
It would be interesting to learn if ‘Abbas is, in fact, taking a page out of Israel’s playbook. Just as Netanyahu and each of his predecessors bar none have used Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy as a political cover to consolidate control over the Occupied Territories through settlement expansion and the like, ‘Abbas may have come to the conclusion that he cannot afford to engineer the collapse of Oslo but will now begin to use it as a cover as well — to move forward with internationalization and reconciliation. It’s an interesting thought, but a purely speculative one.
What are the main obstacles to the success of this reconciliation effort?
Time, Oslo, Israel, the United States and unresolved issues. These last include security, which the parties have agreed to address only after the elections, and the elections themselves, which one or both parties may decide to obstruct and, if they don’t, can be frustrated by Israel. The current agreement basically leaves the situation on the ground unchanged, or to be addressed by the government that will be formed after the elections.
There is also the matter of the absence of a common political program or national strategic consensus on how to confront Israel and related issues like American-sponsored diplomacy. The agreement calls for the activation of a provisional leadership committee, which is the first step toward the integration of Hamas and Islamic Jihad into the PLO and gives them a role in decision making until that process is completed. But its activation has been agreed upon previously and thus far nothing materialized. It is my understanding that in the latest negotiations Hamas put considerable emphasis on this issue, so they may have received meaningful assurances in this respect.
How has the regional turmoil affected the calculations of the Gaza and Ramallah wings of the PA?
I’ve dealt with this topic in response to your first question. I would add that Fatah appears confident that the agreement can withstand the coming American-Israeli onslaught, particularly financially. Some don’t take these threats seriously, because they understand that in its present form the PA serves an Israeli and Western interest more than Palestinian ones, and that Israeli civil servants will be sent home before Palestinian ones if the survival of the PA is at stake. Others believe that if Congress once again goes more berserk than Israel and tries to bring down the PA, that the Gulf states and, most important, Saudi Arabia will come to their financial rescue, particularly in the current environment of American-Saudi differences on Iran, Syria and other issues.
For Hamas, in addition to the role that regional turmoil has played in their calculations, they may also hope to use this agreement as a bridge to repair relations with these same Gulf states. That is a tall order, however, considering that Saudi Arabia and its closest GCC allies have declared open season on the Muslim Brothers to whom Hamas belongs.
Internationally, the key player to watch if the agreement is consummated is the EU and its leading member states. Will they as in 2006 once again and against their better judgment slavishly fall into line behind the Americans, as Quartet envoy Tony Blair has doubtlessly already begun agitating for, or will they demonstrate a capacity to learn from their mistakes and sprout a spine? It’s a difficult question to answer.
Isn’t there a basic contradiction between Israel-PA security “coordination” and effective Fatah-Hamas reconciliation? If this deal is for real, then does that mean coordination is off or that Hamas is taking a further step toward collaboration with Israel?
In theory yes, but in practice no. The present agreement, to the best of my understanding, leaves the security sector unmolested until after the elections. That means that Hamas is not being integrated into the existing infrastructure of coordination that exists in the West Bank.
More important, the Gaza agreement was not signed at a time when Fatah is coordinating with Israel while Hamas is engaged in struggle against it and demanding an end to such cooperation as a condition for implementation. Rather, in the Gaza Strip, Hamas has become the guarantor of Israel’s security by maintaining its own ceasefire and enforcing it to the best of its ability on everyone else. Hamas’ coordination with Israel is unlike that of Fatah — informal and arguably tactical — but it is there nonetheless.
And, of course, we should ask what this prospective deal might mean for the majority of the Palestinian people, who live outside the areas administered by either wing of the PA. For them, the deal is potentially significant, to the extent that it leads to rejuvenation of the PLO as the national representative of the Palestinian people rather than a secondary department of the PA. In this respect, the agreement also specifies that elections will be held for the Palestinian National Council, as well. That could be an important step toward the revival of the Palestinian national movement as an inclusive and representative body. But the challenges in this respect are huge and unlikely to be resolved by a piece of paper. Furthermore, and not entirely without justification given present realities in the region and the challenges of reconciliation, such issues are at least initially likely to be addressed through a variety of quota arrangements — assuming they are implemented.
This is of course not the first time that Hamas & the PLO have agreed on reconciliation.
Implementation is much more difficult than signing Palestinian unity under which flag? Palestine or Hamas? Who’s ideology is it that they unify under?
Will Hamas Ezzedin al Qassam troops merge into the PA security forces or the opposite? Will PA troops take over Rafah crossing?
Will PA security forces continue security coordination with Israel as part of a joint government?
Will the 70,000 PA (Ramallah) employees in Gaza be allowed to go back to work in the Hamas controlled offices, including teachers?
Hamas changed some Gaza school books, which text books will be used? In Gaza Hamas was teaching Hebrew, will they now in the West Bank schools?
Will Gaza return to VAT clearances with Israel?Will Hamas give up its control of the Gaza side of the Erez crossing?
Will beer be allowed back in Gaza? Will women in Gaza be allowed to dress as they like or will the Hamas police still harass women in Gaza?
If there are new Palestinian elections, which is badly needed, will the winner take all? Will both sides respect the outcome of elections?
Will Hamas allow PA newspapers into Gaza?
Will the PA allow Hamas Imams to function in the West Bank?
Will the PA release Hamas prisoners in the West Bank, will Hamas release Fatah prisoners in Gaza?
Will Mohammed Dahlan make and entry? Will he be welcome in the West Bank or in Gaza?
Will the EU and the US continue to provide financial support to Palestine?
Will all of the 133 countries which have recognized the State of Palestine recognize it with a joint government with Hamas?
If there is a joint PLO-Hamas government and Hamas abducts another Israeli soldier will the PA stand behind it or reject it?
If there is a joint PLO-Hamas government and rockets continue to be shot at Israel from Gaza, who will be held responsible?
The Ramallah PA uses about 60% of its budget on Gaza, will it now be allowed to collect taxes in Gaza?
The Ramallah PA pays the electricity and water bills for Gaza, will it now be able to charge for electricity and collect money for water?
Will the hamas Minister of interior who runs a private army be subordinate to the new joint government?
If the unity government will be made of technocrats, what will Ismail Haniyeh be doing in his retirement?
With a new unity government, will Egypt re-open the Rafah border? Will Egypt forget that Hamas-the MB – is still part of the government?
If there is a new unity government and hamas continues to dig tunnels into Israel or Israel, what will the government do?
Hamas clergy regularly preach against Jews and Christians, what sayeth you Palestinian Christians about the unity?
Hamas has said that it will never recognize Israel, does the PLO withdraw its recognition of Israel granted by President Arafat?
Will Abbas demand that to participate in elections Hamas must renounces its covenant of hate?
Hamas implements the death penalty against collaborators. Until now they considered Abbas a collaborator. Will he get the death penalty?
To Netanyahu: the best way to block the Hamas-PLO deal is to make the Palestinians an offer they can’t refuse-end the occupation
If Kerry’s negotiations were real the Palestinian unity deal would not be happening
Kerry’s 9 months gave birth to Palestinian unity, not the end of the occupation
In 9 months of “negotiations” Israel never put an offer on the table. Where is the Israeli proposal?
Where is Netanyahu’s map? doesn’t exist
Hamas is financially bankrupt, will PLO now pay its salaries or fire them?
Yesterday I thought that Kerry’s 9 months were a false pregnancy, but now there is a baby popping out, but not the one expected
Now that there is unity isn’t it time for the Hamas leadership to come back to Palestine? Khaled Mashal pack your bags, Gaza is waiting
The Palestinian Declaration of Independence written by M.Darwish recognizes UN Res181 for Jewish & Arab states in Palestine, what sayeth Hamas?
Hamas Covenant: The Islamic Resistance Movement is one of the wings of Moslem Brotherhood in Palestine
Hamas Covenant: The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews)
Initiatives, & so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of Hamas
Hamas: In face of the Jews’ usurpation of Palestine, it is compulsory that the banner of Jihad be raised.
Hamas: The day The PLO adopts Islam as its way of life, we will become its soldiers, and fuel for its fire that will burn the enemies.
Ghazi Hamad tells Ynet that Hamas and Fatah have still to discuss policy on Israel, but group would accept state within ’67 borders.
By Attila Somfalvi, Ynet news
April 24, 2014
Hamas has not yet decided whether it will maintain its preferred policy of violent resistance to Israel following the announcement of a unity agreement with Palestinian rival Fatah, a senior official in the organization told Ynet on Thursday.
Ghazi Hamad, Hamas’ deputy foreign minister in its Gaza government, was speaking a day after the two organizations signed a far-reaching reconciliation agreement, ostensibly ending more than six years of brutal internecine fighting.
“We will discuss this – among other issues – at the negotiations between Fatah and Hamas,” Hamad said.
He said, however, that Hamas is certain that Israel lacks any desire to reach an agreement with the Palestinians.
“We are all convinced Israel doesn’t want peace, it doesn’t want to see a Palestinian state.”
Nonetheless, he said, Hamas would accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, adding that Israel’s agreement on this issue could lead to a drastic shift in the conflict.
Ghazi Hamad at the 2009 press conference: “We want to be part of the international community,” Hamas leader Ghazi Hamad told The Associated Press at the Gaza-Egypt border, where he was coordinating Arab aid shipments. “I think Hamas has no interest now to increase the number of crises in Gaza or to challenge the world.” Not talking about Israel’s destruction, Ynet 2009
“As we have said, we want a Palestinian state with the 1967 borders, Ghazi Hamad, the deputy foreign minister in Hamas’s Gaza government, told Ynet. “If (Israel) is willing to accept this, the entire situation will change.”
The deal includes a demand for Hamas to abide by previously signed agreements with Israel, but Hamad balked Thursday at the notion that the group recognize Israel.
“Recognition will be between two states,” he told Ynet. “You don’t need organizations to recognize Israel. It’s enough that the Palestinian Liberation Organization – the representative of the Palestinian people – recognizes the State of Israel. Besides, (Israel) has yet to recognize the rights and borders of a Palestinian state.”
Hamad also dodged the issue of Hamas support for Fatah’s current participation in the peace process with Israel, saying that the issue had yet to be decided.
“Our conduct on the political situation will be decided after negotiations with Fatah, which will aim to unite our agenda,” he said.
Contradictions are rife when it comes to Israel’s refusal to engage in dialogue with Hamas.
By Zvi Bar’el, Haaretz
April 25, 2014
“Israel is an existing fact, and the State of Israel will continue to exist. But Hamas will only consider recognizing Israel when an independent Palestinian state is established … As a Palestinian, I want a state within the ‘67 borders,” said Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal in an interview with Reuters in January 2007. It was six months before Hamas’ armed takeover of Gaza, which created the deepest, most violent rupture ever of Palestinian leadership.
Nobody in Israel took Meshal’s statement seriously, as nobody took seriously a document released by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh’s adviser a month earlier. The document proposed a five-year “hudna,” or “ceasefire,” to “… enable Israel and the Palestinians to advance toward setting up two states for two peoples.”
In May 2013, Meshal told Foreign Policy, “Hamas would be open in principle to negotiations with Israel, though the reality on the ground today made such talks pointless. The [military] resistance … is a means to an end, not a goal by itself.”
The goal is a Palestinian state within the borders of 1967.
Is Hamas riper now than in the past to conduct negotiations with Israel? The panic that gripped Israel’s government in view of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation signed this week indicates that the question should be directed at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before it is directed at Meshal. Israel after all signed the Oslo agreements with the Palestine Liberation Organization, not with the Palestinian state. The PLO was defined as a terror organization and the talks with it took place before it recognized Israel and announced the renunciation of the armed resistance.
Hamas is not part of the PLO, but other Palestinian groups, known as the “rejectionist organizations,” are an inseparable part of it. Yet Israel never demanded that these groups recognize it before it signed the Oslo agreements.
The reconciliation will lead Hamas and Islamic Jihad into coalition with the PLO, making them an inseparable part of the formal framework that signed the Oslo agreements. It is possible of course that the new PLO will move to revoke these agreements unilaterally. But so far no inclination has been reported on Hamas’ part to condition its joining the PLO on revoking the agreements.
On the contrary, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has stated that there is no contradiction between the peace talks and the reconciliation agreement. This could indicate an agreement between Fatah and Hamas to maintain the peace talks, as Meshal made clear already in 2012, when the basic reconciliation agreement between the two movements was ratified.
The reasons for Hamas’ signing the reconciliation agreement on are no secret. Since Hamas severed its ties with the Syrian regime due to the civilian massacre, it was immediately cut off from the Iranian feeding tube. Hamas cannot take advantage of Qatar’s contributions, intended mainly for development, due to the double closure of Gaza by Egypt and Israel.
Turkey is still transferring money to Hamas, but not enough to maintain and pay the wages of tens of thousands of Gazan policemen and administrative officials. Hamas must also iron out its differences with Egypt. Hamas is seen in Egypt as part of the Muslim Brotherhood, which the Egyptian regime defines as a terror organization.
In the absence of an Arab patron, Hamas is forced to examine the possibility of adopting Abbas and the Palestinian Authority.
Abbas, for his part, has good reasons of his own to reconcile with Hamas. The first is ideological. Abbas, not his predecessor Yasser Arafat, lost Gaza to Hamas. Abbas must also maintain the PLO’s title as the sole representative of the Palestinian people, as stipulated in the Arab League conference of 1974. At the time, Hamas wasn’t even part of the game. But now, Abbas must represent the entire Palestinian people if he wants to achieve international recognition of an independent Palestinian state.
Here too lies the dilemma that Abbas is placing on Israel and the United States’ doorstep. If they want to advance a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, they cannot demand to neutralize Hamas and at the same time claim that Abbas does not represent all of the Palestinians.
Israel’s automatic reaction is not surprising. It prefers to negotiate ad hoc with organizations, even terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, on specific issues, like releasing prisoners or a cease fire. It does not conduct diplomatic talks with groups that don’t recognize it. But the Palestinian Authority also doesn’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state, yet Israel conducts peace talks with it all the same.
Another contradiction in Israel’s position pertains to Hamas. Israel objected to talks with Hamas because it was a terror group and served as an Iranian agent in the region. But when Hamas cut itself off from Iran and moved to join the PLO, Israel used it as an excuse to stop the peace negotiations with the Palestinians and blame Abbas for the talks’ collapse.
Israel is expected to cut all ties with the Palestinian unity government that is due to be formed in five weeks and even impose sanctions on it. Washington is also expected to turn a cold shoulder to the new government. At this stage, the European Union and Arab states, most of which support the reconciliation, will have to make a decision. Will they allow some 5 million Palestinians to be left with no services, no funds and no hope of a political horizon, or will they take this opportunity to shape reality in the Middle East, rather than merely observe from the side?
Fatah and Hamas agree landmark pact after seven-year rift
Move has aim of forming unity government within five weeks, but Israel says agreement will derail peace talks
Peter Beaumont in Gaza City and Paul Lewis in Washington, Guardian
April 24, 2014
The two main rival Palestinian factions have signed an accord designed to end seven years of sometimes violent division, paving the way for elections later in the year and the formation of a unity government within weeks.
The move, after a day of talks between Hamas and Fatah in Gaza that lasted until three in the morning, comes less than a week before the expiry of the deadline for US-sponsored peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on 29 April and is certain to complicate US efforts to seek another nine-month extension to those talks.
Israel immediately responded by saying the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, was moving to peace with Hamas instead of peace with Israel. “He has to choose,” said the prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu. “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.”
After the agreement was announced, Israel cancelled a planned session of peace negotiations with the Palestinians. It also launched an air strike on a site in the north of the Gaza Strip, wounding 12 people including children, which underscored the deep mutual suspicion and hostility that persists. Speaking in Ramallah in the West Bank, Abbas said in his view the pact with Hamas did not contradict the peace talks he was pursuing with Israel, adding that an independent state living peacefully alongside Israel remained his goal.
The agreement, signed in Gaza City on Wednesday by Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of Hamas, and a senior Palestinian Liberation Organisation delegation dispatched by Abbas marks the latest attempt in three years of efforts to end the discord between the two factions.
A packed news conference in Gaza in a hall adjoining Haniyeh’s home in Beach refugee camp cheered as he announced the deal to end the split between the two groups and between Gaza and the West Bank. “This is the good news we have to tell the people: the era of discord is ended,” Haniyeh said.
Although there have been failed attempts to end the rift before, this agreement comes with both factions facing internal problems. Hamas has become ever more isolated internationally, particularly since the like-minded Muslim Brotherhood was ousted in Egypt last year. The new military-led authorities in Cairo have cracked down on the smuggling tunnels into Gaza.
Fatah and Abbas have been damaged by the failure of peace negotiations to deliver results amid continuing Israeli settlement building, all of which has pushed the issue of reconciliation up the agenda.
Despite talk before the announcement about the quick formation of a national unity government and a decree for elections, the wording of the agreement was less cut and dried – suggesting a possible timing for elections in at “least six months” after talks to try to form a new government by agreement.
The statement was also not clear whether Hamas figures would be represented in any new government – which could lead to a cut in EU and US funding. Sceptics, however, noted that similar agreements between the two sides – under Arab sponsorship – have been reached in the past but never implemented.
In Washington state department spokesperson Jen Psaki said the US was troubled by the announcement, which “could seriously complicate” negotiations to extend peace negotiations. “This certainly is disappointing and raises concerns about our efforts to extend the negotiations,” she said.
“It is hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that doesn’t believe in its right to exist.” She also indicated there could be broader implications for an array of US policies towards Palestine, including aid, should Hamas enter into government without abiding a set of principles, including recognition of Israel, agreement to previous agreements, and a commitment to non-violence, dictated by Washington.
Secretary of state John Kerry spoke on the phone with Netanyahu on Tuesday, while other senior US diplomats on the ground have spoken with Mahmoud Abbas.
The root of recent conflict between the two largest Palestinian movements follows the 2006 elections which Hamas won but the west, Israel and Abbas largely refused to recognise. Hamas asserted its control of Gaza in 2007 leaving Abbas in charge of only parts of the West Bank. Since then both sides have become entrenched in their territories, setting up respective governments and their own security forces, and arresting their rivals.
Key stumbling blocks in previous attempts at reconciliation have been focused on security forces and on the Palestinian Authority’s security co-operation arrangements on the West Bank that have seen the authority arrest and jail members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
There was no mention in the announcement that security co-operation with Israel would change. Despite Netanyahu’s comments, later in the day a senior Israeli official was more cautious about the implications of the Gaza deal saying Netanyahu office was consulting on it. prime minister’s office is consulting tonight the meaning of it. It does not bode well but for the moment the policy is wait and see.”
Reconciliation between rival Palestinian factions comes as prospects wane for progress in negotiations with Israel
By Al Jazeera and Reuters.
April 23, 2014
Rival Palestinian political factions Hamas and Fatah announced Wednesday that they have reached a potentially historic agreement to form a unity government that would revitalize the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and set the stage for new elections in the occupied territories. If implemented, the deal would represent a break by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas from U.S. tutelage, and would likely end Secretary of State John Kerry’s hopes of keeping alive his faltering efforts to renew negotiations between Israel and the PLO.
Israel immediately called off the next round of talks in response to the deal.
Wednesday’s announcement included plans to form a provisional government within five weeks for the West Bank and Gaza staffed by technocrats, to prepare the way for elections six months after that.
“It is a great honor to me personally to have this agreement reached,” said Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas-backed prime minister in Gaza. Hamas won the last Palestinian legislative elections, but Abbas’ Fatah movement sought to prevent it from taking power — and a power struggle in Gaza in 2007 led to the violent ejection of Fatah forces from the territory. Since then, the territories ostensibly ruled by the Palestinian Authority have been split between Hamas-controlled Gaza and the Fatah-controlled West Bank. No new elections have been held in eight years.
Fatah movement leader Azzam al-Ahmad, left, and Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh speak during a press conference following the meeting to end Palestinian divisions between Fatah and Hamas movement in Gaza City on April 23, 2014. Photo by Mustafa Hassona—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Azzam Al-Ahmed, the Fatah negotiator, expressed optimism at the outcome of negotiations with rival factions.
“We are reunited. We extend all appreciation and thanks to our brother Ismail Haniyeh for the significant role he has played during the two meetings over the last two days,” said Al-Ahmed.
This week’s negotiations represent the first meeting in the Gaza Strip since 2007.
The two sides met and signed deals in 2011 and 2012 in meetings in Cairo and Doha — but never with the desired result of unification. The new agreement, reached in only two days, will honor the terms of those agreements.
The implications of a reunified Palestinian polity for negotiations with Israel are not clear. Hamas has long opposed the U.S.-led negotiations in which Abbas has participated, and the U.S. and Israel have supported a strategy of isolating Hamas and blockading its Gaza stronghold. Unable to secure Palestinian goals in the Kerry talks, however, Abbas has lately threatened to walk away from the process and collapse the Palestinian Authority — which had been established two decades ago as an interim administrative body to prepare the way for Palestinian statehood. Reconciliation with Hamas has clearly riled the Israelis, who refuse to negotiate with the movement, deemed a terrorist organization by the U.S. and European Union.
“Does he [Abbas] want peace with Hamas or peace with Israel?” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday in remarks to reporters. “You can have one but not the other. I hope he chooses peace. So far he hasn’t done so.”
A senior Obama administration official told Al Jazeera, “We have been clear about the principles that must guide a Palestinian government in order for it to play a constructive role in achieving peace and building an independent Palestinian state. Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the State of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties.”
The official added, “If a new Palestinian government is formed, we will assess it based on its adherence to the stipulations above, its policies and actions, and will determine any implications for our assistance based on U.S. law.”
It remains unclear what attitude any Palestinian unity government would take toward negotiations with Israel. Those negotiations are conducted under the auspices of the PLO, which would be reconstructed under the agreement to potentially include Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which have opposed the peace process in which the PLO has been engaged for the past 20 years.
Abbas’ spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said Palestinian unity was an internal matter. “Abbas chooses peace and the unity of the Palestinian people,” he said. “The choice of unifying the Palestinian people enforces peace, and there is no contradiction whatsoever between reconciliation and negotiations.”
Yousef Munnayer, executive director of The Jerusalem Fund, a Palestinian advocacy group, told Al Jazeera that attempts at reconciliation would face hurdles.
“Unity is in the interest of the Palestinian people. There is no doubt that a more unified Palestinian front is stronger than a divided one,” said Munnayer.
“Predictably, the Israelis, who generally feast on the weakness of Palestinians and attempt to bully them through pointless negotiations, are irate over any Palestinian attempts to reject Israeli-imposed division,” he added. “Tel Aviv and their friends in Washington will now attempt, as they have before, to scuttle any Palestinian reconciliation agreement.”
Some Palestinians, weathered by divisions in the past, told Al Jazeera they remained skeptical of the new agreement. Ramallah resident Nur Hamad said she supported reconciliation “because we have to be one nation.”
“No factions, only a Palestinian nation, but I don’t think Fatah and Hamas are going to succeed,” Hamad said.
Shortly after Wednesday’s announcement, Israel launched an air raid in the northern Gaza Strip, Reuters reported. The strike injured 12 people, some of them children as young as five, according to medical sources in Gaza and Israeli defense forces.
Wednesday’s strike follows missiles Hamas lobbed across the border into Israel on Monday. That attack caused no injuries.
Chris Sheridan and Wilson Dizard contributed to this report.
By Karl Vick, Time magazine
April 23, 2014
Tel Aviv–Rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have been here before. They’ve buried the hatchet with “historic pacts” that fizzled twice since 2011. There’s skepticism — but also a glimmer of hope — that this time could be different
There’s no shortage of reasons to be skeptical of the reconciliation agreement signed on Wednesday between Hamas and Fatah, the rival Palestinian political factions that split the Gaza Strip and the West Bank between them seven years ago — ending any practical semblance of Palestinian national unity. Twice since 2011, the parties have grandly announced similar “historic pacts” that would supposedly end the rift, and neither has amounted to much: the militant Islamists of Hamas still govern Gaza, the moderate nationalists of Fatah hold sway in the West Bank.
“No, it’s not real,” says Abdullah Zeud, 28, who owns a computer store in Ramallah, in the West Bank. “It’s just like every meeting these guys have held in the past, which ends up with them fighting and not agreeing on anything. They continue to hold their meetings, bring the Palestinian people’s hopes up, and then it all ends up with them disagreeing over everything”
“It is becoming a joke,” says Im Issa, 52, a Ramallah housewife. “Why is this happening now? Is it because they have found themselves going nowhere with the negotiations and want to try and put pressure on Israel?”
It could be. The timing of the announcement, six days before the April 29 deadline for U.S.-sponsored peace talks, suggests Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads Fatah, may have chosen to push back against pressure from Israel and the U.S., which Palestinians see as insisting on new concessions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was angered by the latest announcement, declaring, as he did after the previous pacts, that Abbas “must choose. Does he want reconciliation with Hamas, or peace with Israel?”
By appearing to choose Hamas, Abbas wins points with the Palestinian public (which strongly opposes the factional rift), while perhaps also driving a wedge between the Americans and Netanyahu. “Is he hoping this will raise alarm bells in Washington, and they’ll go back to the Israelis and say, ‘We’ve got to offer him something’?” asks Mouin Rabbani, a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies. “Yes, the timing is suspicious.”
But Rabbani also sees evidence that the new pact may well be more credible than those that came before. Both factions, he notes, have lately been weakened — Fatah by the trajectory of the peace talks, Hamas by a cascade of political bad news. First Hamas lost its headquarters in Syria, triggering a sharp drop in financial support from Iran. Even worse was the military’s July 2013 overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, which largely sealed off Gaza’s last remaining open border; the new Egyptian regime declared Hamas a terrorist group.
There’s also the photos of the signing ceremony, which took place in Gaza City. The earlier pacts were inked in Cairo and Doha, and championed by Hamas’ chairman, Khaled Meshaal, who travels the Middle East as a kind of roving ambassador. Both pacts were opposed by Hamas leaders trapped in Gaza — the very Hamas officials beaming with their arms in the air on the dais on Monday.
“The opposition in the past was from the Gaza-based leadership,” Rabbani says, “and this time those are the ones who are signing.”
Significantly, the pact is structured to avoid forcing together the rival parties. It calls for installing a technocratic government in five weeks’ time, which will prepare elections in six months. Meanwhile, Fatah will continue to govern the West Bank through the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas will rule Gaza. In theory, at least, it could work. And some even believe it will.
“From the things I’ve been hearing on the news today, it really sounds as though the two parties are really serious this time,” says Mohammad Ali, 35, a construction worker in the West Bank city of el-Bireh. “I think that the two parties have realized that they don’t have any more options, the negotiations have not achieved anything, and they need to unite with one another in order to confront Israel as one people united with common goals and objectives.”
But as Rabbani points out, and as the last two pacts announced with no less fanfare made clear, “Signing is one thing, and implementation is another.”
With reporting from Rami Nazzal, Ramallah
Netanyahu, Kerry Make Peace…Between Palestinians!
By Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam
April 23, 2014
The unthinkable has happened! Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Secretary Kerry have made a remarkable achievement. They made peace…between Hamas and Fatah (video). They’ve bridged the unbridgeable, intractable hostility that has festered between the two Palestinian factions for seven years, since a U.S. fomented Fatah coup failed. The result was a rump Fatah faction controlling the West Bank and Hamas controlling Gaza. Many previous attempts by Egypt and Gulf States to broker a truce or compromise have failed. But Israel’s refusal to honor the framework agreed to during earlier negotiations has driven the Palestinian groups into each other’s arms. It’s quite an achievement (for the emir of Qatar and Egyptian officials, who brokered the agreement); one of which Bibi and Kerry should be proud, though I doubt they’ll see it that way.
Given the two previous failures, it’s proper to exercise caution and wait to see whether the deal holds. There are many elements to the agreement and it could founder on any of them. But if it holds, it will have multiple ramifications for future negotiations (if there are any).
First, neither Israel nor the U.S. wants reconciliation. They want a docile PA upon which they may exert pressure and get a favorable deal. The PA alone is far more likely to accede to Israeli demands. A united government will force the PA to come up with an agreement that will also be acceptable to Hamas and its followers, a considerably more demanding constituency.
This means Israel may refuse to negotiate at all, as the prime minister indicated when he cancelled the next round of talks. If Israel’s rejectionist position holds over the long term, then the rest of the world will adopt a far more aggressive position against the Occupation and in favor of BDS. This will also revive, and add credibility to the Palestinian effort to achieve recognition on the world stage. You can expect another campaign for recognition of statehood before the General Assembly in the coming months.
This is Abbas’ vote of no confidence in both Kerry and this Israeli government. It also bodes ill for U.S. policy towards the region. It certainly signals the failure of the Kerry-led talks. Till now, our policy has been predicated on a quiescent PA. With a revived Palestinian movement, it will prove much harder to attain a deal. This may seal a U.S. decision to commence a period of ‘benign neglect’ regarding the I-P conflict.
The U.S. response was less than enthusiastic:
The U.S. State Department said the timing of the Palestinian reconciliation deal was “troubling” and that it was “disappointed” by the announcement.
“It is hard to see how Israel will negotiate with a government that does not recognize its right to exist,” State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said.
Psaki might want to brush up her Shakespeare and ‘ancient’ Israel-Palestine history: in the past this issue was finessed by determining that the PLO would conduct peace negotiations while the Palestinian legislative body, which would include Hamas representatives, would accede to the PLO in this matter. The final deal, if there is one, would be put to the entire Palestinian people, upon which Hamas would agree to go along.
If the U.S. wants to remain the only party in Israel’s rejectionist camp refusing to recognize such a government as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, then we risk making ourselves the laughingstock of the rest of the world.
Israel’s demand of veto power in determining which Palestinian government it will negotiate with brought to my mind an historical analogy: imagine if when Britain announced it was ready to negotiate its surrender in 1783, George Washington had announced he would only do so if King George expelled a political party from the ruling coalition. Or if the French in 1962 refused to negotiate peace with the Algerians till the latter’s ruling party expelled leaders whom France disliked. It’s simply absurd.
The wild card will be how Islamic Jihad and radical Palestinian elements will react. They may be under no obligation to respect the agreement and may see it as giving them carte blanche to pursue an independent approach that might include terror attacks. But if those impulses can be reigned in, then the Palestinians may actually eschew armed conflict for a period to determine how the world reacts to their new-found unity (or at least, conciliation). This would be a real opportunity for the world to step forward and accord Palestine the recognition and respect it deserves, including removing Hamas from terror lists should it continue to eschew armed conflict. In truth, for there ultimately to be peace, Palestinians must be united in order to maintain any possible agreement they might make. Without such consensus, there can be no agreement with Israel.
That may be one of the reasons, Netanyahu hates such a prospect. With it, the world will take Palestinian interests much more seriously and Israeli interests (as interpreted by its ultra-nationalist government) less so.
The success of this new venture depends on the seriousness and adaptability of the parties. It remains to be seen how strongly Hamas and Fatah are committed to it. If they are, and there are elections in six months with the winning faction governing the revived PA, it will change the attitude of international leaders to Palestine, and further diminish Israel’s status.
A recent poll by An-Najah University indicates strong support both for a unity government and talks with the Israelis. The poll found that if elections were held now Fatah would hold a plurality and Hamas would come in a distant second. If those are the actual election results, it remains to be seen whether Hamas will be willing to allow the PA to govern in Gaza. All this will be a new adventure in what one hopes will be responsible governance.
Palestinian unity exposes Netanyahu’s true face
‘One gun, one military authority,’ demanded Israel of the Palestinians, so why is its government now using the Fatah-Hamas rapprochement as grounds for an end to all negotiations?
By David Landau, Haaretz
April 25, 2014
For several years now, attacks, criticism and ridicule of Middle East peace efforts have all flowed from the fact that Hamas, the Palestinian opposition, does not recognize Israel and is against negotiations with it. But Hamas governs one part of the proposed Palestinian state and is prominent in the politics of the other part.
People devoted to the peace process have argued back that the Israeli right-wing opposition, too, opposes peace and peace negotiations. Now indeed, with an Israel-Palestinian agreement looming (in their eyes), the Israeli right is vindicating this comparison with Hamas. Rightist ministers and Knesset Members, purportedly part of the coalition, have called for a permanent end to the peace negotiations, beyond the suspension announced by the government itself.
The major problem, however, for Israeli moderates is not the consistent hard line of the right but rather the inconsistent, incoherent line of Israel’s government and the defense establishment. And as usual, that line, sold by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is firing up easily ignited public opinion.
“It’s them or us,” the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority is now grimly being told. You can’t negotiate peace if you have the terrorist Hamas in your camp. You can’t have it both ways.
But having it both ways was precisely what Israel demanded of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas until now, and what the international community is still demanding of him, with new hope that he will acquiesce.
How to have it both ways? “Be like Ben-Gurion” was the recommendation formerly emanating from Jerusalem to Ramallah. That didn’t necessarily mean the Altalena model – the bloody, demonstrative disciplining of the opposition in 1948. Rather, it meant “One gun, one military authority” in the emerging Palestinian state. And it meant signing up Hamas even before statehood to accept the principle of the Palestinians negotiating with the Jewish state, just as the Zionist opposition parties, (some of them widely condemned as terrorist) effectively accepted (before Israel’s establishment) the Mapai-led Jewish Agency’s right to negotiate with the British on behalf of the whole Yishuv.
The Palestinian Authority now claims to have got similar concessions out of Hamas. Israel’s response? To suspend the negotiations, even though much of the international community is encouraged by the Palestinian conciliation accord; Israel is asking the Palestinians to delete the key concept of “having it both ways” from its list of conditions.
Worse still, “them or us” has become a bad-faith fulmination lacking logic or credibility. For in practice it connotes only one thing: Stop negotiating permanently. It is the precise opposite, in other words, of what Israel professed to be urging and demanding until now, in the pursuit of a negotiated agreement on all the key issues of peace. Netanyahu sometimes speaks of pulling off masks and exposing the true faces of his Palestinian interlocutors. The mask, I fear, is on the other face this time.
Media release from The Elders
April 24, 2014
“Any lasting peace with Israel will have to be predicated on a peace agreement with a unified and democratic Palestinian government exercising its authority in both the West Bank and Gaza.” Kofi Annan
The Elders welcome yesterday’s reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas and call for its swift implementation.
The Elders welcome the reconciliation agreement signed in Gaza on 23 April by Hamas and Fatah representatives. Since 2007, the Fatah-Hamas division has been the source of a rift between the West Bank and Gaza, making a viable peace between Israelis and Palestinians more challenging.
The parties have agreed to form within five weeks an interim, technocratic Palestinian National Authority government and six months thereafter prepare for presidential and legislative elections in Palestine.
Jimmy Carter, former US President, said:
“I commend the Palestinians for having secured this agreement, and I urge all parties to implement it swiftly, and in good faith. Any remaining differences must be resolved peacefully. When the Palestinians elect a new leadership – provided the elections are conducted in accordance with international standards – I strongly urge the international community to respect the democratic choices of the Palestinian people.”
Kofi Annan, Chair of The Elders and former UN Secretary-General, said:
“Palestinian reconciliation should not be seen as undermining prospects for a negotiated two-state solution. On the contrary, any lasting peace with Israel will have to be predicated on a peace agreement with a unified and democratic Palestinian government exercising its authority in both the West Bank and Gaza.”
The Elders support US Secretary of State John Kerry’s energetic efforts to assist the Israelis and Palestinians towards a just peace agreement. Any remaining differences towards this goal must be resolved peacefully.
Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland and former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, added:
“I believe the Palestinians’ adherence to international conventions and treaties, and their membership in UN institutions is the best assurance of the peaceful pursuit of Palestinian rights under international law.”
Notes and links
Who are the Elders?
Martti Ahtisaari, Kofi Annan, Ela Bhatt, Lakhdar Brahimi,
Graça Machel,Mary Robinson, Desmond Tutu, Honorary Elder, Ernesto Zedillo
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