CAIRO: Two weeks after Hamas and Fatah announced they would attempt to form a Palestinian unity government following a seven-year rift, there have been no tangible actions from the two, and some analysts now say the unity government may remain unrealized.
Days after the U.S.-mediated peace talks between Palestine and Israel failed, the two rival Palestinian parties announced the unity agreement April 23 and said they would form a new government within five weeks followed by presidential and parliamentary elections.
Although Palestinian Prime Minister Ramy al-Hamdullah resigned on April 25 as a goodwill gesture, the deal is being challenged by American and Israeli pressure and internal fundamental disagreements between the two Palestinian sides.
“Both Hamas and Fatah suffer from crises: Hamas faces Israeli blockage and Fatah is bogged down with the failure of peace talks. These crises have pushed them to announce forming a technocratic government including figures from both sides,” said Palestinian academic, political analyst and recently announced presidential candidate Abdel-Sattar Qassem in remarks to The Cairo Post Thursday.
“The sides signed a paper, but there is no will to form any unity government. On the contrary, the Palestinian authority arrested 35 members from Hamas after signing the agreement, so applying such reconciliation raises many questions,” continued Qassem, who has announced that he will run for president against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) in the proposed future elections.
The Muslim Brotherhood defeat in Egypt pushed Hamas leaders to accept the reconciliation and forced it to change its policies because it was isolated, especially after the campaign Egypt launched against its tunnels, said Nourhan al-Sheikh, head of the U.S. Studies Center in Economics and Political Faculty at Cairo University, speaking to The Cairo Post Sunday.
Egypt has destroyed 1,200 tunnels in the Sinai to stop smuggling from Egyptian territories to Hamas-controlled Gaza, according to former Egyptian Minister of Defense and presidential candidate Abdel Fatah al-Sisi in remarks in a Monday television interview.
However, Qassem said that the political defeat of the Egyptian MB, which was designated a terrorist group Dec. 25 by Egypt’s interim government, did not push Hamas to accept reconciliation. He said the ongoing Israeli blockade of Gaza is the real reason.
Even if they can overcome international challenges, Hamas and Fatah still must resolve a host of inter-Palestinian issues should a unity government succeed. For starters, a lack of trust between the two is another factor that could ruin the newly-born deal.
“Hamas hasn’t even eased its restrictions on Fatah members in Gaza,” Sheikh said. But Hamas did lift the ban on distributing Fatah-affiliated newspapers in the Gaza strip two days after announcing the reconciliation deal and now says its waiting for an equal response from the Abbas administration in the West Bank, she added.
The two sides also take different approaches in dealing with Israel. Unlike Fatah, Hamas still refuses to recognize Israel, which is a condition from the U.S. for giving aid to Palestine.
In April, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu criticized the unity deal, and said peace talks were essentially “buried” if it went through. But according to Sheikh, unity would strengthen Abbas in dealing with Israel. She said the U.S. and Israel exploit the inter-Palestinian division between Hamas and Fatah, and this weakens Abbas.
“The price of this reconciliation is allowing Hamas members to exist in the West Bank, that matter increases Israeli concerns and represents a direct threat to Tel Aviv.” Sheikh said. In addition, she said Abbas also worries that Hamas, which was blacklisted by the U.S. in 2007, could take over both Gaza and the West Bank
On April 24, Hamas politburo member Osama Hamdan announced that the movement is considering entering the upcoming Palestinian presidential elections scheduled to be held in six months, MENA reported.
As for the withdrawal of $440 million in aid from the U.S., Qassem said that it is better for Palestinians to refuse such aid given for political concessions, and said aid from Qatar, the mediator of the reconciliation, could replace it. But Sheikh said she disagreed, and didn’t think Qatar would risk crossing the U.S. by sending aid.
“Qatar has no independent international policy. Although it tries to paint a good picture in the world, it also could not move without U.S. permission,” Sheikh said. “Besides, it has a good relationship with Israel.” She said the only country that could move in and provide that kind of aid would be Iran, which would be “happy” to use Hamas