Palestinian Unity ‘Frozen’, Again – OpEd


By Houriya Ahmed

A month after Fatah and Hamas chiefs signed a reconciliation deal–after almost ten months in negotiations–is it any surprise that the deal has broken down?

In an interview with the Ma’an News agency, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas stated that “unity is frozen”, referring to the deal signed in Qatar last month that would have seen the end of the bitter rivalry between the two foes.

The deal would have seen Abbas act as interim Prime Minister in a caretaker government, in addition to his current positions as President of the PA and Chief of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), until new presidential and parliamentary elections are held in the Palestinian Territories.

The reason for a breakdown in implementing the unity deal is due to objections raised by Hamas officials in Gaza to Abbas acting as interim PM, saying that such a move would be unconstitutional.

Opposition to the unity deal by Hamas officials in Gaza was, in Abbas’ view, contrary to the views expressed by the Islamist group’s politburo Chief Khaled Mashaal in Doha, who he believes “agreed on the vision and objectives and conditions [of the unity deal] in full [and was] ready (to proceed).” He also stated that “the ball is now in Hamas’ court”.

The push back to the deal by Hamas officials shows the growing internal rift between the group’s political leadership–which is floundering for a permanent base after abandoning its patron in Syria–and its administrative one in Gaza. So it would be interesting to see what Qatar, a strong proponent of the unity deal, will do to help solve Hamas’ internal infighting and whether it will try to re-facilitate unity between Fatah and Hamas. Qatar is interested in moderating Hamas into a pragmatic political player in the region, and has, along with Turkey, filled the void in Hamas’ financial pockets that was left by Iran after the group refused to side with Bashar al-Assad’s campaign of killing Syrian civilians; Qatar gave $250 million to the group to help with re-construction efforts in Gaza. Could it threaten to halt these funds to pressurise Hamas leaders in Gaza to accept Abbas heading the caretaker government?

It will also be interesting to see whether Abbas, who is currently in Baghdad, will be able to push for momentum in Palestinian unity and gain support from other Arab nations as they gather for an Arab League summit in Iraq. Events of late, with regards to Syria and Iran, have drawn the limelight away from the unity deal. Abbas in fact said that he hoped for greater “emotional, political and financial support” for Palestine from Arab countries while at the summit.

However, the escalation of violence earlier this month between Israel and Palestinian militant factions, namely Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees, shows that Hamas is unable to fully control events in the Gaza strip–the Territory which it currently governs. It seems that the Palestinian militants, who were the first to attack Israel, were most probably acting as proxies for Iran, who could have used the militants to serve a double purpose: to punish Hamas for not siding with Syria and thus Iran, and to distract scrutiny over its own nuclear activity to Israeli “aggression”.

Considering that Hamas–its political wing anyway–is unable to control what happens inside Gaza, is it even prudent for Abbas to push for unity? Well, only time will tell.

Houriya Ahmed is a Research Fellow at the HJS.

The Henry Jackson Society

The Henry Jackson Society: Project for Democratic Geopolitics is a cross-partisan, British-based think-tank. Its founders and supporters are united by a common interest in fostering a strong British and European commitment towards freedom, liberty, constitutional democracy, human rights, governmental and institutional reform and a robust foreign, security and defence policy and transatlantic alliance.

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