One step forward, ten back
Hopes appear to dim of inter-Palestinian reconciliation as a war of words erupts between Hamas and Fatah. When will it end, asks Saleh Al-Naami
Majed Ibrahim, 44, had just gone back to sleep after praying at the local mosque at dawn in central Gaza when his mobile phone rang. It was his brother, Ghassan, telling him he was wrong to be so optimistic the night before about the chances of success for the dialogue in Damascus. Ghassan was disappointed because he felt that the fate of the Damascus dialogue would be similar to previous ones, in light of the war of words that erupted between the spokesmen for Hamas and Fatah. Fatah declared that it objects, on principle, to allowing Hamas members to join the ranks of Palestinian security forces and that partnership on security issues was out of the question.
The scene appeared very gloomy, as reflected in an overall glum mood among the people in the wake of negative campaigns and the exchange of insults between Hamas and Fatah. Al-Ahram Weekly, however, was told by informed sources that the agenda in Damascus would also include a compromise proposed by independent Palestinians to overcome disagreements on security issues between the two sides -- most notably a joint security committee that will be responsible for running the security apparatus. The proposal contains three main suggestions.
First, merging security personnel in the Hamas government with their counterparts in the Fatah government who worked together before military operations resulted in Hamas taking control of the Gaza Strip. Second, senior security positions would be held by politically independent figures that have no group affiliations to either Fatah or Hamas, to supervise the security apparatus in Gaza. Meanwhile, security forces in the West Bank would continue their work without any changes. Third, to begin restructuring the Palestinian security apparatus as proposed in the Egyptian reconciliation plan.
Both Fatah and Hamas members refused to comment to the Weekly about these suggestions, because they did not want to discuss the Damascus agenda in the media, to prevent any backlash that could undermine the chances of success. Nonetheless, it is obvious that the proposal by the independents does not include a number of essential points, namely under whose authority will security forces fall. Fatah insists they must come under the control of the Palestinian presidency; Hamas believes the elected government should command the security apparatus. The quarrel over who will control the security forces is vital to settling many disputed issues between Fatah and all other Palestinian factions, such as security cooperation with Israel, political detentions, and other sensitive issues.
The Weekly was informed that the real hurdle facing an agreement in Damascus is not security matters -- unlike the impression given by spokesmen for the two groups that all is agreed upon except for the issue of security. Sources said that there has been no agreement on the political platform of the coming government, no election schedule, nor agreement on the type of balloting to be employed. At the same time, it appears that the dispute over security matters does not only concern who has authority over the apparatus, but also includes policy towards armed Palestinian groups. The positions of the two sides are polar opposites on these issues, and only intense interference by Arab mediators could bridge this gap.
Meanwhile, Israel is vehemently opposed to Hamas participating in any Palestinian security forces under any circumstances, and has publicly declared its absolute opposition to national reconciliation. Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon asserted that Fatah must choose between negotiations with Israel or reconciliation with Hamas. Israeli television reported that Yaalon said: "Mahmoud Abbas cannot claim he wants to reach a political settlement in the conflict with us at a time when he is renewing alliances with Hamas, which is known as a staunch adversary of peace. Palestinian reconciliation will absolutely and conclusively bring down the curtain on [conflict] settlement."
At the same time, Yaalon did not demonstrate any willingness to take any practical steps to convince Abbas to come to the negotiating table, and has called for the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was clear about the real reasons why Israel objects to reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. "National unity would reconnect the West Bank with the Gaza Strip to become one political unit, which we don't want," Lieberman told Israeli Radio. "Israel's greatest achievement since inter-Palestinian divisions began is the complete separation between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and we must do all we can to maintain this accomplishment."
Israel's firm veto on reconciliation came amid the war of words between Hamas and Fatah that was ignited by President Abbas. One week before dialogue began, Abbas discussed his position regarding security issues, which will top the agenda in Damascus. In statements during a visit to Kuwait, Abbas clearly stated that he absolutely rejects the "security partnership" Hamas is championing. He said he would not allow Hamas to participate in the leadership of security forces, adding that the PA's security forces must fall under one leadership. Abbas asserted that he would never allow diversified control of the security apparatus.
He went further by criticising Hamas and challenging its independence, noting that Iran rejects Palestinian national reconciliation and that it is undermining efforts to settle the conflict with Israel peacefully. Abbas's statements infuriated Hamas members, who felt he had overstepped the boundaries of the Egyptian proposal that he champions. Yehia Moussa, deputy leader of Hamas's parliamentary bloc and a leading member in the group, believes Abbas's refusal to partner on security matters demonstrates that all he is interested in is maintaining the security apparatus as an agent for Israel. Moussa told the Weekly that this is a clear breach of the Egyptian plan that Abbas is demanding Hamas signs.
The Hamas leader asserted that Abbas's statements also signal that he is not willing to make any changes to the status quo of continued security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in pursuit of resistance fighters. Moussa added that during previous dialogues in Cairo, all Palestinian factions unanimously rejected security cooperation and asserted the need for a new security code that protects Palestinian citizens, not the occupation.
Moussa denied Abbas's accusation that Iran was obstructing the settlement process, saying that these statements indicate that Abbas "has become part of the US-Israeli design in the region". "The entire world, except for the US, agrees that the right wing government in Israel is responsible for obstructing the settlement process," argued Moussa. "How can Abbas volunteer to criticise those who are assisting the Palestinian people?" He continued: "Who is continuing settlement building and Judaisation, and demands the recognition of the Jewish character of the state? Who is allowing settlers to harm Palestinian citizens?"
Moussa believes that Abbas's statements underscore that the national cause and independence are not of interest to Abbas, and he questioned his motives "for not blaming the occupation in particular". Accordingly, he continued, Abbas "cannot be trusted with the national cause and is incapable of negotiating in the name of the Palestinian people, as long as he is the mouthpiece of the occupation." Moussa called on Fatah to correct its course and take a firm position regarding Abbas. "His leadership has undermined the stature of Fatah as one of the movements for national liberation."
Moussa asserted that despite Abbas's troublesome statements, one should wait and see what Fatah representatives in Damascus will say. His group will be committed to the Egyptian proposal as well as any internal understandings they reach with Fatah, he stated.
The magic wand that could make dialogue in Damascus succeed is Arab unity behind reconciliation. If inter-Arab disputes continue, there will be no progress in reconciliation efforts. Egypt and Syria are capable of promoting reconciliation if they can reconcile among themselves. Inter-Palestinian divisions appear similar to those within Lebanon, which are influenced by the dynamics between regional powers
The link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2010/1023/re3.htm