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Dialogue dies as well

Dialogue dies as well

Ramallah's assassination of a Hamas commander in the West Bank may be the straw that breaks the back of Palestinian national reconciliation efforts, writes Saleh Al-Naami

Israeli security chiefs still remember the angry reaction of former prime minister Ehud Olmert two years ago when the commander of the Israeli armed forces in the West Bank, Gad Shamani, told him that the efforts to assassinate Mohamed Al-Samman had ended in failure. Al-Samman was the West Bank commander of the Ezzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, and Olmert's fury was due to the long list of commando operations that Al-Samman had either undertaken or overseen.

Last Saturday night, however, Israeli security chiefs had reason to feel relief as Al-Samman was finally killed -- though by the security forces of the Salam Fayyad government. Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces raided the building that Al-Samman and his aides had taken refuge in, and an armed struggle took place that ended in the killing of Al-Samman, his assistant, the building owner, and three members of the security forces. This incident that shocked the Palestinian street was described by leaders in the PA as "proof" that Fayyad's government was committed to the agreements signed with Israel.

Hussein Al-Sheikh, the minister responsible for coordination with Israel, boasted about Al-Samman's assassination last Sunday on official Israeli radio, saying that he was assassinated because he had posed a threat to the agreements and understandings reached between the PA and Israel. "Whoever threatens security and acts outside of the law will be pursued, either with arrest or assassination. They are responsible for what happens to them. We won't let the situation deteriorate like it did in Gaza, and we've clarified this to all of the factions," he said.

In the first official Israeli comment, the Israeli army praised the assassination of Al-Samman, who it described as being responsible for terrorist acts against Israel, and said that his assassination by PA security forces granted the act special significance. Last Sunday, Israeli radio reported an Israeli military source as saying that Al-Samman was wanted by Israeli security agencies and that the Israeli army had tried to arrest or kill him numerous times but had always failed. The PA succeeded in this mission after pursuing him for six years.

The assassination of Al-Samman has aggravated the war of words between Hamas and Fatah at a time when efforts are being made to convince each side to return to the dialogue table. The military wing of Hamas has held PA President Mahmoud Abbas responsible for the assassination of Al-Samman and the ramifications it will bring. Ezzeddin Al-Qassam Brigades spokesperson Abu Ubeida told a press conference held in Gaza Sunday that PA agencies had abducted more than 100 Hamas members and supporters in Qalqilya to obtain information on Al-Samman in order to locate and assassinate him.

Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) politburo member Jamil Al-Majdalawi sharply criticised the Fayyad government for pursuing the resistance and its fighters, and called for an end to all forms of security cooperation with occupation agencies. There must be an "immediate end to this policy and its representatives must be dismissed", he said. In a public statement, Al-Majdalawi demanded the formation of a committee to immediately begin investigations into what he called the "painful, sorrowful incident that took place in Qalqilya". He further demanded "the declaration of the results of this investigation to our people, so that we all can condemn those who drive Palestinian relations towards a renewal of cyclical fighting and to an expansion to new areas."

Prominent Hamas figure Salah Al-Burdweil says that Hamas is seriously considering suspending its participation in national dialogue efforts following Al-Samman's assassination. In a statement to Al-Ahram Weekly, Al-Burdweil asked Egypt to "get President Abbas to commit to halting political assassinations and to free all political detainees".

With regard to efforts to resume the dialogue, Palestinian sources have told the Weekly that Hamas has informed Egypt that it rejects its proposal to form a multi-factional committee composed to oversee the administration of the Gaza Strip and to be responsible to the Fayyad government. These sources said that Hamas's response to Egypt included an amended version of the proposal that calls for the formation of a factional committee responsible to President Abbas, but which deals with both the Ramallah and Gaza governments through the same mechanism.

As for Hamas's position on the electoral system, it agrees to 60 per cent of Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) seats being determined through a proportional representation system, and to the rest being determined through electoral districts. Another proposal suggests filling 75 per cent of PLC seats through the proportional system.

With regard to the dialogue committees, Hamas has stressed that their work must be unified. Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum says that Hamas and the other factions have rejected Fatah's demand that the next Palestinian government commit to the agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Barhoum says that Hamas rejects Fayyad being the prime authority in any Palestinian government, and that Hamas refuses to deal with him under any circumstances. Yet the dispute goes beyond the issue of authority for Egypt's proposed committee, extending to the committee's mission, the number of its members, and numerous other details. Barhoum explains that Hamas insists on any agreement reached being implemented in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and not in the Strip alone. Hamas rejects the formation of a joint security force in the Gaza Strip as long as an equivalent is not formed for the West Bank. While it does agree to the formation of a joint security force to oversee the functioning of the Rafah Crossing, so as to enable its reopening, Hamas considers the formation of a joint force in the Gaza Strip as a way of dictating to it from Ramallah.

Prominent Fatah figure in the Gaza Strip Ibrahim Abu Naja told the Weekly that Fatah rejects Hamas's vision for the composition of security agencies in the Gaza Strip. Abu Naja says that Fatah rejects limiting the mission of the multi- faction forces to the Rafah Crossing, and insists on the original proposal that calls for it undertaking all security missions in the Gaza Strip, including preparing for the elections by creating an appropriate atmosphere of calm. Abu Naja stresses that Fatah refuses to allow any one Palestinian faction to oversee security in Gaza, even while admitting that the previous five dialogue sessions did not harbour any results. He describes the domestic atmosphere as "very disturbed, with relations growing worse day by day". This atmosphere, he says, threatens the chances of success for the dialogue committee meetings to be held in Cairo.

Yet even if the assassination of Al-Samman and disputes over the primary issues of the dialogue were ignored, all signs indicate that Israel, the US administration, and the Fayyad government do not want the dialogue to reap any real results. Former Mossad chief Ephraim Helevi says that the Fayyad government isn't concerned with the dialogue, but rather with coordinating with Israel and the US to do away with Hamas. In an article published in last Sunday's Yediot Aharonot, called "The new Palestinian", Helevi said that Israel's arrests of Hamas leaders and activists in the West Bank aim to strengthen the rule of Abbas. He admitted that Israel was undertaking a security review of the relatives of PA security agency affiliates in the West Bank, with the knowledge of US General Keith Dayton, who is overseeing the training of these forces. Helevi added that Israel was offering support to Abbas and the PA in the field of security, and that the Israeli arrests of Hamas leaders and activists in the West Bank was considered part of that aid.

Yet Helevi also criticised Abbas for weakness; that during his term the PA has gone through an "unprecedented decline". Under Abbas the PA lost the Gaza Strip and the internal conflict within Fatah has been exacerbated. Helevi underlines his point by stating that Israel expects Hamas to win any future elections, despite the financial support received by the Fayyad government as well as the security assistance Israel provides it. Helevi expects that the efforts of Israel and the US to support Abbas will come to naught, as Abbas is not capable of doing away with Hamas. "President Obama will have to decide whether he wants to take the risk of supporting the step of doing away with Hamas," Helevi says. "In a best case scenario, [Abbas] would remain supported by Israel and the United States, and in the worst case scenario, Hamas would win in the elections and would pose a serious threat to Israel and the United States." Helevi calls for dialogue with Hamas, rather than attempts to locate an alternative to it.

In all cases, it seems that short of a miracle Palestinian national dialogue will fail. The assassination of Al-Samman seems to have eliminated prospects of national reconciliation as well.

The link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2009/950/re3.htm

 

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