Gaza Peace Talks: Hamas’ Dilemma

Egypt’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood continues on the diplomatic front with the opening of two sets of talks this week in Cairo. One set will have Egypt brokering discussions with Fatah and Hamas on the future of governance in the Gaza Strip, while the other will see Egyptian and Palestinian Authority (PA) representatives shuttling between Hamas and an Israeli delegation.

Although Egypt brokered the ceasefire deal between Hamas and Israel that ended 50 days of rockets flying out of Gaza and Israel, which devastated the tiny strip, it cannot have escaped Hamas’ notice that Egypt has an agenda of its own—and it is shared with just about every other party involved. Read more at LobeLog.

Netanyahu’s New Friends

In my latest piece for Souciant, I look at Benjamin Netanyahu’s ineffectual “threat” to cut off the negotiations to nowhere with the Palestinian Authority if they reunify with Hamas.

Bibi clearly wants a situation where the US will back an Israeli refusal to continue negotiations, and Hamas joining a unity government gives him that. But in the longer run, that strategy might well backfire and, ironically, offer the best hope we have left for a peaceful resolution that both sides can live with.

Text: The Palestinian Unity Agreement

I’ve pasted below the full text of what is, according to the Palestinian National Initiative (Mustafa Barghouti’s organization), the new Palestinian unity agreement. My thanks go to independent journalist Jared Malsin for alerting me to this translation, and to Ma’an News’reporter and English Editor George Hale for the list of signatory organizations.

Palestinians clearly want unity, but will this text bring it?

The translation is rough in some places, and there is a distinct lack of clarity in some areas, making me wonder if the former hasn’t led to some of the latter. But on the whole, this agreement doesn’t say much that hasn’t been reported already. I’ll just make a couple of points.

There is a good deal here about healing the rift that has developed between Gaza and the West Bank. It’s unclear how that can be accomplished while Israel lies between the two territories, and is not likely to be disposed to allowing passage between them. Elections could be a problem as well, although Israel did allow Hamas to campaign in 2005. Still, given that experience, it’s hard to count on such “largesse” again.

There are two passages that seem to be key, but are very vague in their wording.

Section 2 seems to indicate that Hamas is agreeing to allow the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to continue to be the representative of the Palestinian people in negotiations, primarily of course, with Israel. We should recall that, despite a blurring of the line between the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, the two are different, albeit overlapping, bodies, and the PLO is still the only recognized representative of the Palestinian people (so recognized by Israel, the US and the international community, and at one time by the Palestinian people. Whether this remains true for Palestinians is problematic at best). This is what allows Hamas to straddle the line between dealing with Israel and its refusal to recognize the “Zionist entity.” It would seem this reaffirms Hamas’ stated position of years past that they would abide by an agreement negotiated by Abbas is it was approved by a popular referendum. Continue reading

Palestinian Unity: Dividends and Discontents

The announcement today of a deal for reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas certainly caused a great stir. It’s worth examining what it means.

Is This For Real?

That’s the first question to be asked and only the coming days will provide an answer, but the early indications are that it seems like this will finally happen. The announcement of the deal was met with no small amount of cynicism, as these agreements have been said to be coming about in the past, but have always evaporated over some dispute or other.

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh (left) and PA President Mahmoud Abbas

This has a different feel. Probably the biggest reason for that is the proposed vote in the UN in September on recognition of Palestinian statehood. The proposition is problematic, even for supportive countries, as long as the Palestinians themselves are split. Also, while Egypt has been the broker of these agreements in the past, this time the Mubarak regime, and particularly his aide Omar Suleiman, are not involved. The new faces may have had ideas that the former mediators would not have broached. Finally, the Arab Spring has unleashed a wave of democracy. Neither of the Palestinian factions want to wait until such a thing happens in their own territory. But more importantly, the increasing weight of Arab public opinion will be a boon to the Palestinian cause, both in new Arab regimes and in the current ones that survive. A unified Palestinian government will be in a much better position to take advantage of that.

The deal apparently will mean a sharing of power between Hamas and Fatah in the broader PA government, while getting around the question of control of security forces (which has been the main sticking point in previous attempts at an agreement) by keeping the status quo, where Hamas will control security in Gaza, Fatah in the West Bank. Ultimately the PA will be reconstituted by elections within a year.

If this does happen, it’s a game-changer. The changes are not entirely predictable; nothing ever is, especially in this conflict. But there is no doubt that it will mean changes for the Palestinian Authority and will present new dilemmas for Israel and the United States, as well as the larger Middle East and the international community in general. Continue reading

Israel and US Need to Support, Not Obstruct, Palestinian Unity

[This piece was originally published at the Meretz USA blog]

Yesterday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it clear, as if it needed clarifying, that he is uninterested in finding peace with the Palestinians. He did this by issuing an ultimatum to Fatah and its leader, PA President Mahmoud Abbas: you can either reconcile with Hamas or make peace with Israel, not both.

More than once on my blog, I’ve been criticized by commenters for my view of Hamas. I see them as a reactionary religious-nationalist movement. They have no

Fatah's Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas' Khaled Meshal share an uncomfortable handshake

compunction about attacking civilians, are appropriately called terrorists, have a poor human rights record in Gaza (a score on which anyone who has read my work will know I have been at least as critical of the Israeli occupation record as well as the PA), and are legitimately mistrusted.

But Hamas is, like it or not, also a part of the Palestinian body politic. In the early 1980s, when Israel tacitly permitted the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood to organize in the hope that it would provide a religious, but much less threatening, counterweight to the PLO, they surely did not have any idea what they were doing. Hamas grew out of that, and it is a regrettable development, in my view for both sides.

And, again like it or not, they control the Gaza Strip. All efforts to shake their rule there have failed, and if elections were held today among all Palestinians, all polls indicate they would have significant, albeit clearly minority, support. Put simply, the option of being able to reach a deal with the Palestinians without Hamas just does not exist.

And we can thank ourselves for that. In 2006, the United States insisted on Palestinian elections, and Hamas, as the main party in the List of Change and Reform, won the most seats, 74 of 132. Before the newly elected PA could form any sort of policy on anything, Israel and the Quartet (the US, EU, UN and Russian Federation) instituted a regime of economic sanctions on it. These actions reverberated around the Arab world, sending the message that America supports democracy as long as it produces outcomes we approve of. Continue reading

PA Panicked by Palestine Papers

The PLO’s spokesman, Saeb Erekat, released a statement today in response to Al Jazeera’s publication of The Palestine Papers. The release is pasted below.

The statement would seem, at least at this early stage, to reflect genuine panic on Erekat’s part. The standard denial of something having been “taken out of context,” which is often very valid, plays very badly when the full contents of the minutes of meetings and entire documents are what he is addressing.

Saeb Erekat seems to know he's in a very bad position because of the Palestine Papers

His statement that the PA position has maintained the traditional Palestinian stances — “…to establish a sovereign and independent Palestinian State along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and to reach a just solution to the refugee issue based on their international legal rights, including those set out in UNGA 194…”– is clearly contradicted by the contents of the Papers.

Even more, the assertion that the PA made today, that Al Jazeera was essentially acting as a tool of the Qatar government, which is relatively friendly toward Hamas, has no foundation. It’s similar to the Israeli tactic regarding the Goldstone Report, which was to try to attack the source’s credibility rather than deal with the substance, which was largely unassailable.

Also today, a mob of Abbas supporters attacked the Al Jazeera headquarters in Ramallah on the West Bank. They did some damage an no one, apparently, was injured. The crowd was said to number around 250 people. Was that staged? Who can say, though I have my suspicions. But if a lot of Palestinians really bought Erekat’s response, that number would surely have been much higher; Ramallah is a pretty packed city.

Even if the PA, with its current Fatah leadership, somehow manages to stay in power after this, the PLO’s legitimacy as the “sole representative of the Palestinian people” is hopelessly compromised.  Continue reading

Talk Talk Talk

Please check out my latest piece on allvoices.com, regarding the possibilities of indirect talks with Hamas. Click here to read it.