According to reliable information, Fateh and Hamas have agreed on the government's composition, which will be referred to President Mahmud Abbas as soon as he returns from a foreign trip.
The President can approve the composition either as it is, or make some adjustments, after which [Fateh official] Azzam al-Ahmed will travel to Gaza to finalize the matter in preparation for the formal announcement of the new government in Ramallah.
Yet it is still unclear who the head of the new government will be. While some say that Abbas will ask someone to form a cabinet, others insist that the President will head it himself on outside advice and to deny the United States and Israel the chance to criticize the government's program if it were to be headed by an independent such as [current PM] Rami Hamdallah – especially as Hamas announced that it has no objections to such an arrangement.
Should Abbas head the new government, he would hold very broad powers (he would be President, Prime Minister, and head of the PLO), which would consolidate the one-man rule we have been living under since the split in 2007. It goes without saying that the President would give his own cabinet his vote of confidence.
If we add to all this the fact that the incoming government of national unity is expected to continue for more than six months (the latest reconciliation agreement signed at Gaza's Shati refugee camp stipulates that elections should be held within six months at least, despite the fact that Abbas had until then insisted that they be held within three months of forming a government), and that legislative elections (Palestine Legislative Council--PLC) should be linked to electing a new Palestine National Council (PNC)– which is virtually impossible, given the situation in Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, the countries hosting the largest numbers of Palestinian refugees – we realize that the new government could continue to rule for a long time.
More importantly, Hamas does not want to contest elections before rehabilitating its organizational structures in the West Bank, which were virtually decimated because of the split by both the Palestinian security forces and the Israeli occupation. Hamas also seeks guarantees that the results of the elections would be respected.
In addition, Fateh is not yet prepared to contest a general election because of the ongoing power struggle within the movement, especially regarding what has come to be known as ‘the [former PA security head and Fatah official] Mohammad Dahlan phenomenon,’ which is expected to be addressed by Fateh's VII Congress. Another issue causing consternation in Fateh's ranks is Abbas' determination not to stand for re-election, and the fact that no replacement candidate has been chosen. This means that there will be a bitter rivalry for the post of President between many ambitious hopefuls. Should the issue of succession not be settled, which includes the position [jailed Fatah leader] Marwan Barghouti is supposed to occupy in the new leadership structure (by establishing a new post of vice-President, for instance), Fateh would be exposed to a severe internal crisis the consequences of which cannot be foreseen.
President Abbas was quoted to have said that he would continue in his post if he saw a possibility of reaching a peace agreement with Israel, an issue that would take time. What this means is that the Abbas presidency – and the life of the new government – will be prolonged, unless unexpected developments take place, such as: failure to agree on a political program, postponing the issue of security forces until after the next elections, and failure to reactivate the PLO.
Among the other problems that could derail the new government are: failure to lift the blockade on Gaza and reopen the Rafah crossing with Egypt (it is not at all certain that the crossing would be reopened unless relations between Hamas and Egypt are repaired), paying Hamas employees' salaries, and how to reemploy the army of dismissed public employees.
All this is not intended to discourage the new government or bury the process of reconciliation. There are after all many reasons why the reconciliation process should go ahead. It is intended to shine a light on potential obstacles and pitfalls in order to be able to defuse them. This is especially important given the fact that both Fateh and Hamas see the latest reconciliation agreement as a means to deal with their own crises. Should these crises be solved on their own accord, should the Shati agreement fail to solve them, or should domestic, regional, and international circumstances change, everything will collapse.
However, it is possible to avoid such an outcome, if new strategies are implemented. Consolidating the reconciliation is possible by:
--First, engaging in broad dialogue in which all the Palestinian people are represented in order to come up with new strategies that stress the common interest and provide for new ways to confront the burgeoning Zionist colonialist program and its attempts to liquidate the Palestinian cause.
--Second, creating an interim leadership framework to act as a unified leadership until the PLO is restructured. Such a framework should include all Palestinian national movements. Elections for the PNC must be held. Such a framework ensures that a power vacuum does not arise, which could lead to a breakdown of law and order in the West Bank and/or Gaza. Israel would dearly love to see such a scenario played out, in order to avoid being isolated and ostracized, as well as to avoid the outbreak of a new intifada that draws lessons from the previous two uprisings. In order to ensure the widest possible participation in the new framework, all Palestinian communities must be mobilized and encouraged to act, overseen by Palestinian legations and embassies abroad.
--Third, the security issue must be addressed in a national debate. A supreme security committee must be created and entrusted with carrying out the tasks outlined in the Cairo agreement, viz. rebuilding, activating, and unifying all Palestinian security services, which should be above party loyalties and affiliations. For the security services to continue functioning as they are at the moment is a recipe for failure besides being extremely dangerous. Elections cannot be guaranteed to be free or fair as long as they are overseen by security services that belong to this or that faction. Having separate security forces also increases the risk of election results being disregarded if they did not satisfy this or that party.
The process of unification could begin with the police in the West Bank and Gaza, a process that could be completed within a few months by making use of the initiatives and efforts made by the Masarat Center, which tabled a draft law for the Palestinian police force.