Fatah-Hamas deal would undermine negotiations with Israel!
And meanwhile Nathan Stock of the Carter Center writes in the Christian Science Monitor, 9 October of the need to Talk to Hamas now or fight new radicals indefinitely
Ravid & Issacharoff write:
The United States sent a message to Egypt stating it does not support the proposed reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas as it would undermine negotiations with Israel, Haaretz has learned.
George Mitchell, the U.S. envoy to the Middle East, met on Saturday night in Cairo with the chief of Egyptian intelligence, Gen. Omar Suleiman, and told him the United States would not support an agreement not aligned with the principles of the Quartet.
According to the agreement, which was supposed to have been signed by Thursday, Abbas was to issue a presidential decree no later than October 25, scheduling both parliamentary and presidential elections for June 28. Eighty percent of the delegates to the Palestinian parliament were to be elected by party basis, and 20 percent by constituency.
A special committee with delegates from all factions was supposed to have assumed control of the Gaza Strip, reporting to Abbas. The Strip was also to see a new security force, staffed with members of all Palestinian factions.
Sources told Haaretz that Mitchell made clear to the Egyptians on Saturday the United States expects any Palestinian government to follow the conditions of the Quartet, which include recognition of the State of Israel, acknowledging earlier agreements and renouncing terrorism.
Mitchell also said certain aspects of current agreement were poorly timed as they would undermine relaunching negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.
The administration official said that the United States would continue to oppose those aspects of the agreement at any time. He noted American views on Palestinian governance have been made clear to the Egyptians several times.
The proposed Hamas and Fatah reconciliation agreement would have ended three years of civil strife and political discordance. The actual reconciliation ceremony between chief of the Hamas political bureau, Khaled Meshal, and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, was to be held after the Id al-Adha holiday.
The agreement was authored by the Egyptian mediators, who suggested postponing the formal ceremony as Hamas announced it could not participate in the signing with Abbas after the Palestinian Authority president asked the United Nations to postpone discussion of the Goldstone report.
The mediators then announced they would send the agreement to the principal parties of Fatah and Hamas, expecting them to sign it and return it on October 15 at the latest. All other Palestinian groups are expected to add their signatures by October 20.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that on October 16 the PA will ask the UN Human Rights Council to forward the Goldstone report either to the UN Security Council or to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
Abbas received a copy of the Egyptian-drafted agreement on Sunday evening, and Fatah had already said it was in full agreement with the Egyptian document. The Hamas position on the document remained unclear.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the meeting of the Likud caucus Monday that American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is expected to visit Israel, perhaps as early as the end of the month. The prime minister said he is “more optimistic than some commentators about relaunching the peace process.”
History is repeating itself in the Palestinian territories. Washington refuses to engage a right-wing Palestinian group – and so spawns organizations that are even more extreme.
It happened in the 1980s, when the US balked at recognizing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and hesitated to seek a resolution to the Middle East conflict through the creation of a Palestinian state. Those long delays helped propel the rise of the hard-line Islamist party Hamas.
Today, the lack of US dialogue with Hamas and the group’s moderation are leading to the formation of new, more dangerous rejectionist groups.
If the US were serious about engaging Hamas, it would acknowledge three things:
1. By agreeing to accept a state in the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas is demonstrating de facto recognition of Israel.
2. Hamas has said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas can continue negotiations with Israel, and that it would abide by any peace agreement he signs if it is ratified by a referendum of the Palestinian people.
3. Hamas has observed several cease-fires with Israel and has offered decades-long truces in exchange for an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza.
In December 1988, President Reagan authorized dialogue between the US government and the PLO – 14 years after the Arab League designated the PLO the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” and 13 years after the United Nations General Assembly made the PLO an observer organization. Even Mr. Reagan’s step conferred no official US recognition, though the PLO had some form of relations with at least 70 countries and was widely recognized by the Palestinians as their legitimate political leadership.
Reagan’s decision came one year after the founding of Hamas, established as an Islamic armed force to counter Israel at the beginning of the first Palestinian uprising in 1987. Hamas’s political platform calling for the destruction of Israel was in part a response to the gradual moderation of the PLO, which adopted the position of accepting a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza in 1988.
Back then, Hamas gave new voice to the rejectionists, while centering itself ideologically in the budding Islamic political revival that flowed from the Iranian revolution and the successes of the mujahideen in Afghanistan.
And now it appears that though Hamas’s charter remains the same, like the PLO before it, Hamas has moderated its views substantially. In a July 31 interview with The Wall Street Journal, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal reiterated acceptance of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza on the 1967 lines. “This is the national program. This is our program.”
But, as with Hamas’s rise to the right of the PLO in the late 1980s, new rejectionist groups are springing up with ideologies far more dangerous and fundamentalist than those of Hamas.
On Sept. 6, the Saudi newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported on a Palestinian, Mahmud Talib, who is on the run from Hamas security forces inside Gaza. According to the article, Talib had been a leader in the Hamas military wing, but split from the organization in 2006 when Hamas decided to participate in Palestinian elections, a key signal of its new openness to a two-state solution. Hamas accuses Mr. Talib of masterminding recent bomb attacks in Gaza targeting Hamas security forces.
Talib and his supporters report planning to pledge their allegiance to Osama bin Laden. Talib also claims to have been involved in alleged assassination attempts in Gaza against former President Jimmy Carter and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now Quartet Middle East Envoy. In recent months the Israeli press has also reported on defections from Hamas and the formation of Al Qaeda-inspired organizations in Gaza.
Such groups have claimed responsibility for attacks against Israeli forces on the Gaza border, at a time when Hamas is observing a de facto cease-fire.
While Palestinians attacking Israel is not new, the rise of groups in the Palestinian territories espousing a Salafist (fundamentalist Sunni) ideology is. Though Hamas initially attempted to accommodate these organizations, relations have clearly soured.
On Aug. 14, clashes between Hamas security forces in Gaza and another Al Qaeda-inspired faction, Jund Ansar Allah, left 24 people dead.
The distinction between Hamas and Al Qaeda is significant. Both have been responsible for horrific acts of terrorism, but Hamas is a domestic Palestinian organization, which has consistently avoided attacking non-Israeli targets. Its ideological roots are less conservative than Al Qaeda’s, and, since 9/11, Hamas has distanced itself from Al Qaeda’s rhetoric and global attacks. In the past few years, Hamas has also shown substantial willingness to compromise; Al Qaeda has not.
The US should not overestimate support in Gaza for these more radical organizations. Compared with members of Hamas or the PLO factions, their numbers are few. Gaza is not a new base for global Al Qaeda attacks. But the longer Gaza is left isolated and impoverished, the longer the Hamas government cannot provide hope for the people of Gaza, the more likely it is that Al Qaeda’s ideology will gain support.
The long delay in US outreach to the PLO contributed to the rise of Hamas, and now the delay in engaging Hamas is encouraging the growth of Al Qaeda-inspired organizations on the eastern Mediterranean.
This is yet another reason for the West to talk to Hamas.
Nathan Stock is assistant director of the Conflict Resolution Program at The Carter Center.