July 1, 2009

You did it! No, You did it!

Fatah and Hamas are back to their childish finger-pointing; this time over the issue of political prisoners. The "national reconciliation" talks between the two movements have been conducted in Cairo for several months now, with few signs of progress.

Egypt has been hosting the soap opera-like negotiations to prove the reselince of its (ever-diminishing) regional role. Mubarak also wishes to undo some of the political damage he sustained for helping Israel blockade Gaza during the Gaza Offensive and beyond. The latter policy proved neither effective in toppling Hamas from power (a goal espoused by Cairo for the last two years), nor particularly popular in the Muslim world. In fact, the Egyptian regime was decried by protesters around the world, and widely vilified on Al Jazeera's coverage of the war. The latest news from Cairo, however, reveals the country's continuing inability to mediate regional conflicts as efficiently as the mini-state of Qatar (the host and funder of Al Jazeera News Network) does.

If you expected the irreconcilable differences between Hamas and Fatah to be regarding recognition of Israel, the role and membership of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the formation of national unity government, etc., you'd be mistaken. While the two parties struggle to find common ground on these issues, Hamas and Fatah have been apparetnly arresting each other, even as "national reconciliation" talks are held. Negotiation experts would probably define this as a non-confidence-building measure. Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas Gaza-based prime-minister, blamed the failure of the negotiations on Fatah's "intransigence" regarding the release of Hamas political prisoners (Hamas activists and militants detained by Ramallah's security forces). Haniyeh went on to blast his "brothers in Fatah" for being controlled by the demands of Israel and the United States. Fatah has recently launched a crackdown on some Hamas figures in the West Bank, resulting in the infamous Qalqilya incident. Shortly after the collapse of the talks, it was reported that 10 Hamas members were rounded up in the West Bank on the claim they were planning attacks against Ramallah government figures. Yet, Fatah insisted that some 468 of its memebers are alreadly held by Hamas (a charge Hamas denies), and Presdient Abbass held the Islamist movement responsible for the talks' failure by prioritizing "factional interests" over national reconciliation.

The talks were supposed to end on July 7th with a national unity agreement. Instead, the news came from Cairo that July 25th-28th is the new date for yet another round of talks. This hardly comes as a surprise. Not only has Egypt failed to play an active mediating role conducive to an agreement, but in many cases Cairo blatantly took the side of Fatah.

The Palestinian factions have their own reasons for perpetuating the status quo as well. Hamas wishes to reinforce itself as a fact of life in Gaza. In other words, the longer Hamas clings onto power in the Strip, the more likely that Ramallah, Tel Aviv and Washington would have to accept the organization as a partner in a future peace agreement. Hamas may also be cherishing the victim's image that boosts its popularity among Palestinians, whilst depicting its secular rival as a stooge for the Israeli occupation. On the other hand, Fatah is adamant to demonstrate its relevance. The secular organization's populartiy is sagging, its reach of authority is confined, and its internal cohesion is in question. Abbass and the Fayyad government are trying to remain relevant by showing their ability to counter Hamas' growing influence in the West Bank. Abbass, after all, knows he is the preffered peace partner.

I would like to hear your thoughts on how Arab-Israeli peace can be reached in light of the ongoing rift between the two main Palestinian parties. Or can it be reached with two different authorities?


Matt said...

Peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, and any two-state solution, cannot be reached until the Palestinians work out an internal agreement.

The Israelis will never work with Hamas so long as they continue to espouse and educate violence towards Israel. Nor will Israel negotiate with a Fatah too weak and corrupt to determine lasting and concrete solutions. In addition, while the status quo allows Hamas to play the victim, it also makes it easier for Israel to claim that they can't negotiate peace because there is no legitimate power with which to solve the problems Israel wants addressed.

As the unfortunate situation stands, there is no immediate solution to the rift between the Palestinian factions. The utter collapse of Fatah seems much more likely than any accessions by Hamas and that would likely spell the end to peace talks with Israel for quite some time.

grant marlier said...

great blog yasser. thanks for setting this up.

Yasser M. El-Shimy said...

Thanks, Grant, for your kind words.

Matt, what an insightful comment. It is a sobering analysis of the internal political situation in the Palestinian Territories. I would disagree on one point, however. I believe the "collapse of Fatah" is not imminent, nor even remotely so. As deeply unpopular as Fatah is becoming, there are far too many people and groups with vested interested in Fatah's survival. I imagine all civil servants on Fatah's payroll, for example, are not going to abandon their patron overnight. Nor will the US and the EU allow Hamas to dominate Palestinian political life. They will continue to prop up the Abbass presidency until the bitter end. I hope they do realize no single party or individual can rule the Palestinians. A Hamas-Fatah coalition of sort is inexorable.