The latest Fateh-Hamas agreement appears to be no more serious than its predecessors, says Hani Masri
Only a few days after the reshuffle of PA PM Salam Fayyad's government, Fateh and Hamas suddenly announced on Sunday that they had agreed to implement the February 2012] Doha agreement,
NO EXCUSES LEFT: The latest agreement states that forming a new government of national unity should go hand in hand with the election committee commencing its work in Gaza. Neither party has any excuses left to justify the failure to honor its commitments. The agreement also states that if for any reason it proves impossible for elections to be held on time, the two parties will meet to discuss the possibility of forming a new government of national unity under a mutually agreed independent prime minister. The agreement also states that the question of public liberties should be dealt with as soon as possible before elections are held.
But what has changed to make the Doha agreement workable? Is this all a joke, or is it serious? Or are the parties just playing with the Palestinians' emotions and hopes?
I do not believe that anyone is prepared to believe that the two parties have really made up unless and until the measures agreed upon are implemented. Palestinians are fed up with dishonored agreements and unimplemented timetables.
Superficially at least, it was because Hamas' Politburo put forwards so many conditions that the Doha agreement was not implemented. Nothing new has taken place in this regard, however. Hamas' internal elections are not finished yet, and no successor (if any) to [Politburo Head] Khalid Mish’al has been named.
As for the real reason for non-implementation of the Doha agreement, that was because it was concluded in haste and ignored such major issues as restructuring the PLO, drafting a new political program, and unifying Palestinian institutions. The agreement focused solely on elections and forming a new government.
The absence of any reference to a new political program will cause a major headache. What program will the new government of national unity follow? Will it be that of President Abbas (as he himself stressed after signing the Doha agreement)? Or will the government follow no political program, as Hamas said, because political issues should be dealt with by the PLO and not the PA? And if Hamas's point of view prevails, will the United States, Israel, and other international quarters change their minds about boycotting the new government unless it abides by the conditions laid down by the quartet?
The bitter experience of unimplemented agreements and futile dialogues since the split is cause for pessimism – unless we are convinced otherwise. Why then did Fateh and Hamas suddenly decided to sign a new agreement last Sunday? There are three possible reasons:
--First, Israeli PM Netanyahu's response to President Abbas' letter was – as expected – disappointing. Not only that, but the Israeli prime minister compounded it with an intensification of settlement building and other steps that serve only to perpetuate the occupation. In addition, Netanyahu managed to expand his government, making it the strongest in Israel's history, and crowning himself 'King of Israel.'
Also, the Obama administration, with an election looming, is simply in no position to pressure Israel. In fact, Washington cannot even table suggestions as to how to get the peace train rolling. It still opposes any Palestinian plan to go to the UN to seek full membership or observer status.
These developments have left the Palestinian leadership with very few options, and, together with the deadlocked peace talks, led to the erosion of its legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of the Palestinian people. The recent government reshuffle offered no solution.
--Second: For its part, Hamas overrated the potential effects of the Arab Spring and the rise of political Islam in the region on the situation in Palestine. Hamas expected its status to be enhanced by the Arab revolts, but it subsequently transpired that its optimism was misplaced. It is no longer certain the Muslim Brotherhood will come to rule Egypt and other Arab countries. According to opinion polls in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood's presidential candidate Mohammed Mursi is not in a lead position. In addition, whether Mursi or the other Islamist candidate Abulfutouh, wins, power will remain firmly in the hands of the military council.
Hamas's about-face was also the result of its realization that it was becoming an embarrassment to the Islamist political parties in the Arab Spring countries, most of which are keen to nurture ties with the U.S. and the West. That was why the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood advised Hamas to moderate its positions and come to an agreement with Fateh. The Muslim Brotherhood figured that Egypt would need a long time to get back on its feet during which it would need outside support and regional stability.
--Third: Egypt played a pivotal role in arranging the latest meeting between Fateh and Hamas in Cairo, and in persuading the two sides to reach an agreement. The Egyptian military council badly needed an achievement to enhance its role after next week's presidential election.
In order for the new agreement to succeed, both parties have to demonstrate that they have the political will, and that they are prepared to pay the price of national unity by:
(a) A program stronger than Fateh's and more flexible than Hamas', a program that adheres to Palestinian rights and aspirations, but also to international law and UN resolutions; a program that links implementation of agreements signed with Israel to Israel's doing likewise, and is prepared to abandon the Oslo process otherwise.
(b) Reforming and restructuring the PLO, such that it comes to represent all Palestinian political factions and becomes once again the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
(c) Unifying civilian and security institutions through a plan that begins with unifying the police forces in the West Bank and Gaza in order to enable the election commission to do its job in overseeing elections.
(d) Building a genuine political partnership based on periodic elections and democracy rather than power sharing.
Genuine national unity cannot be restored unless under a revived national program of action that redeems the resistance, uncouples unity from progress in the so-called peace process, and from the ramifications of the Arab spring.
Unity is an essential requirement, not a luxury; it is not a means to press for the resumption of peace talks, or an excuse for the parties to use to blame each other.
The Palestinians need to consolidate their efforts in order to alter the prevailing balance of power fundamentally. Only then can they hope to exercise their right of self-determination.
They must pool their efforts to roll back the occupation, but without ignoring their other rights such as the right of return, the right to an independent homeland within the borders of 1967 with Jerusalem as its capital, and the right of the Palestinians of 1948 to equality, and the Palestinians of the Diaspora to dignity until they are able to return to their homeland.