[Published 26 June 2011]
The much vaunted reconciliation between rival Palestinian Arab groups Hamas and Fatah still remains a mirage almost two months after the widely publicized signing of a reconciliation agreement in Cairo between the two groups on 4 May.
Really no more than a heads of agreement - there has still been no demonstrable progress on any of the matters to be implemented under that agreement.
Ostensibly the logjam has been caused by the parties being unable to agree on a Prime Minister to head the new government of reconciliation until fresh elections are held - supposedly on 4 May 2012.
Fatah has nominated the Palestinian Authority’s current Prime Minister Salam Fayyad - whose appointment has been vehemently opposed by Hamas - and for good reason.
Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh was nominated as prime minister on 16 February 2006 following the Hamas victory in the elections held on 25 January 2006. He was formally presented to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on 20 February 2006 and was sworn in 29 March 2006.
On 14 June 2007, Abbas dismissed Haniyeh and appointed Fayyad in his place. This followed a bitter internecine struggle between Hamas and Fatah that resulted in Hamas gaining control of Gaza culminating in the ICRC estimating that 118 Gazans had been killed and 550 wounded in just the previous week’s struggle for control of Gaza.
The appointment of Fayyad to replace Haniyeh has been challenged as illegal, because under the Palestinian Basic Law, the President of the Palestinian Authority may dismiss a sitting prime minister, but may not appoint a replacement without the approval of the Palestinian Legislative Council. According to the law, until a new prime minister is thus appointed, the outgoing prime minister heads a caretaker government. Fayyad’s appointment was never placed before, or approved, by the Legislative Council.
For this reason, Haniyeh has continued to operate in Gaza, and been recognised by a large number of Palestinians as the legitimate acting prime minister.
Anis al-Qasem - the Palestinian constitutional lawyer who drafted the Basic Law, is among those who has publicly declared the appointment of Fayyad to be illegal.
Certainly the appointment of a mutually acceptable Prime Minister is an issue - but there are other far more critical problems threatening the likelihood of reconciliation ever being implemented.
A report prepared by the Cairo Institute For Human Rights Studies in December 2009 titled “Bastion of Immunity, Mirage of Reform” details the enormous challenges faced by Hamas and Fatah in reconciling their differences:
“Under the cover of the war in Gaza, Hamas embarked on several repressive measures targeting Fatah members, figures who oppose Hamas’ rule, and suspected collaborators with Israel, and it is suspected that dozens of people were killed, either shot to death or as a result of torture. Hamas personnel also broke the legs and arms of dozens of other people to compel them to stay in their homes. Also, some government employees in Gaza were replaced with Hamas loyalists.
In the West Bank, under the authority of Fatah, hundreds of Hamas sympathizers remain in detention; it is thought that at least two of the detainees have died as a result of torture. The West Bank authorities fired civil servants and teachers suspected of Hamas sympathies, while the salaries of thousands of employees of the Palestinian authority inside the Gaza Strip were suspended. Licensing for associations and companies in both the West Bank and Gaza Strip is now preceded by a security check,and those organizations that have affiliations with the “wrong” party are refused Licenses.”
Rectifying this reprehensible conduct on both sides is virtually only mentioned in passing in Article 4B5 of the 4 May reconciliation agreement in these bland and impersonal terms:
“To resolve the civil and administrative problems that resulted from the division.”
An unknown number of political prisoners held by both sides continue to languish in prisons as a result of Hamas and Fatah being obviously unable to agree on their release.
Matters such as compensating families for the loss of their family members murdered and tortured or who lost their jobs will also need to be resolved if true reconciliation is to be achieved.
Other fundamental doctrinal issues also indicate the unrealistic possibility of reconciliation.
They centre around the provisions of Article 13 and Article 27 of the Hamas Covenant 1988
Article 13 declares:
“There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavours.”
Hamas could hardly agree to be part of a Government seeking to approach the United Nations in September to declare a Palestinian Arab State in only 5% of former Palestine. Abandoning its stated goal of securing sovereignty in 100% of former Palestine would defeat the raison d’etre for its very existence.
Article 27 poses even bigger problems for the mooted reconciliation by making it clear that Hamas is opposed to a secular State of Palestine as endorsed by the Palestine Liberation Organization - of which Fatah is the controlling factional member - whilst Hamas is not even a member:
“Secularism completely contradicts religious ideology. Attitudes, conduct and decisions stem from ideologies.
That is why, with all our appreciation for the Palestinian Liberation Organization - and what it can develop into - and without belittling its role in the Arab-Israeli conflict, we are unable to exchange the present or future Islamic Palestine with the secular idea. The Islamic nature of Palestine is part of our religion and whoever takes his religion lightly is a loser. The day the Palestinian Liberation Organization adopts Islam as its way of life, we will become its soldiers, and fuel for its fire that will burn the enemies.”
The struggle for the hearts and the minds of the Palestinian Arabs is set to continue for a long time - whilst these fundamental differences of philosophy divide Hamas and Fatah. Reconciling these two conflicting viewpoints in a united Government seems impossible to achieve.
The dispute about who will be Prime Minister pales into insignificance compared to these fundamental and deeply held positions.
Only an election can clear the air between Hamas and Fatah and determine which should govern. The likelihood of this happening in the current circumstances is very remote.