د.صالح النعامي
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Empty words

Empty words

Empty words

Fatah and Hamas appear able to agree just one thing, that elections be postponed. Saleh Al-Naami examines the causes, and ramifications, of a dispute that serves to exacerbate the suffering of ordinary Palestinians

Beneath the blazing sun Ahmed Al-Sheify continues to search the lists of names tacked to the wall of a school next to a police headquarters in the west of Gaza. They contain the names of everyone entitled to a $100 payment from the Ministry of Social Affairs of the Palestinian government. Suddenly Al-Sheify's face lights up. His name is on one of the lists.

The payment, supplemented by aid from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which supplies basic food necessities, allows Al-Sheify's family of six to survive. The thing that most frustrates him is that he will be forced to live on such handouts until an agreement is reached that can end internal Palestinian divisions.

Al-Sheify is not alone in despairing at the petty back-and-forth squabbling between Fatah and Hamas. Each group blames the other for the failure of the latest round of talks in Cairo. Amid conflicting statements issued by the two factions one thing is clear. It is security arrangements that are at the heart of their most recent disagreements.

Majed Faraj, a member of the Fatah delegation, said Fatah had demanded Hamas recognise the existence of the security forces in Gaza before Hamas came to power. He also said Fatah had demanded the step-by-step return of those security forces to their posts -- they amount to 10,000 men -- as well as a review of the security forces introduced after Hamas took control. According to Faraj, Hamas is seeking to limit return to 3,000, starting with just 300. He also claimed Hamas was asking to send its own forces to the West Bank under some sort of a quota system, an idea Fatah has refused in its entirety.

Salah Al-Bardawil, a member of Hamas delegation to Cairo, accuses Fatah leaders of adopting an uncompromising position that will shatter any earlier consensus. He was taken by surprise when Fatah demanded "an end to Hamas's rule in Gaza", arguing that such a stance undermines the basis of dialogue between the two factions.

Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly Al-Bardawil said that Fatah had objected to Egyptian proposals calling for the formation of a joint committee to oversee the administration of the Gaza Strip, as well as a joint security force. He also said Fatah had refused to discuss the issue of political prisoners.

Ashraf Gomaa, a senior Fatah legislator, refutes such charges, and has accused Hamas of trying to reach a political deal that guarantees its continued control over Gaza. Gomaa called on Hamas to adopt a strategy more open to Fatah the better to deal with the international community.

"It is clear that people are looking after their own interests, especially when it comes to political detainees. The Fatah movement is against political arrests. We do not arrest anyone. We are seeking the release of prisoners in the West Bank, and this is being done gradually," said Gomaa.

Fatah and Hamas at least agreed to postpone elections that were scheduled to be held on 25 January. The Weekly has learned that an understanding to this effect was reached in the second round of talks held last Sunday in Cairo. Informed sources say both Fatah and Hamas consider postponement in their interest.

While Fatah leaders are publicly in favour of elections now, in private they are worried that they will be defeated at the ballot box. They fear the Palestinian Authority's failure to persuade Palestinians, especially those in the West Bank, to reach a settlement with Israel, and continued Israeli settlement building and land confiscation in the West Bank, combined with draconian restrictions on movement, will weigh heavily against their electoral chances. Fatah is also worried that voters will exact a heavy price for its security forces' violations of human rights under Salam Fayyad's government.

Nor does Hamas see elections as being in its own interest as long as Gaza remains under siege. It fears that many who voted for the movement in the last elections will desert.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri has said that the movement is predicating elections on a number of conditions. It is demanding the restructuring of the Electoral Commission and the Judicial Committee which oversee elections. It also wants guarantees that the siege of Gaza will end, that Egypt be the one to work towards Palestinian reconciliation, and that elections to the Palestinian Authority be conducted in tandem with legislative and presidential polls. Hamas is also demanding an end to political detentions, the release of all members of parliament currently under arrest, and international guarantees that MPs will not be arrested after they are elected.

"Political indicators confirm the inability of the two Palestinian factions to bridge the divide between them, which means that elections will not be held on schedule," says Hassan Khreisheh, independent second deputy speaker of the Legislative Council. "If the elections are not held on time the Legislative Council will continue to exist along current lines, i.e. those who are from the West Bank will remain in the West Bank, and those from Gaza in Gaza."

Should that happen, argues Khreisheh, President Mahmoud Abbas will lose constitutional legitimacy, opening a political vacuum that will remain until presidential elections are held.

The Weekly has learned that Egypt requested the Hamas delegation in the Cairo to allow Fatah members and Gaza residents to travel to Bethlehem in order to participate in Fatah's General Conference. A Hamas source confirmed that Hamas would respond "positively" to Egypt's request, taking into account security conditions. The source stressed that Hamas would not seek to hamper Fatah's Sixth Conference. However, he added, "some of those associated with the Fatah Conference raise security concerns and it will be difficult for us to allow them to travel".

"For this reason, those who want to travel must submit a request to the government in Gaza, in order that their files can be checked. Another problem is that there are still some people who have expressed their request to travel verbally, and have yet to submit a written request."

In the meantime, Palestinians are paying close attention to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's stance, not least his refusal to take a single step towards resolving the conflict through peaceful means. This, in turn, affects the credibility of the positions put forward by President Abbas and Fayyad's government. Netanyahu has openly challenged the US administration by rejecting American demands to freeze settlement-building in occupied East Jerusalem. At the weekly Israeli cabinet meeting on Sunday Netanyahu said Jews could live in Jerusalem wherever they pleased.

Netanyahu's challenge followed reports in Haaretz newspaper that Israeli decision-makers had started to take Obama's admonitions lightly, characterising the US president as naïve. According to the newspaper, the attitude was most deeply embedded among senior staff in Netanyahu's office. According to the report the most popular joke circulating among the Israeli prime minister's senior advisors is as follows:

"What does an American do when he discovers his house is a wreck, or that his washing machine is not working?

Easy, he calls on Obama to give a speech. Problem solved."

The link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2009/957/fr1.htm