[Published 21 November 2011]
Palestinian Authority President - Mahmoud Abbas - is inviting political suicide and an end to the two-state solution - should his planned meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Cairo this coming Friday lead to the creation of a new unity government to end the division of power between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza.
Luckily for him the chances of that happening are virtually non-existent.
False hopes of such a reconciliation occurring have been prompted by the current Prime Minister Salam Fayyad stating he would resign his position should Hamas and the Fatah faction of the PLO - both of which Abbas also leads - reconcile their six long years of internecine struggle.
Fayyad’s position has been jealously guarded by Abbas up to now - and Palestinian gazers see his intention to resign as removing the greatest obstacle to reconciliation.
They are mistaken.
Far more serious divisions exist between Fatah and Hamas as can be gleaned from a report prepared by the Cairo Institute For Human Rights Studies in December 2009 titled:
"Bastion of Immunity, Mirage of Reform” :
“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 between Fatah and Hamas 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 create 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.
Officials in Israel and the United States have also greeted news of the meeting with Mashal with trepidation. Israel has warned that an agreement with Hamas would have grave consequences for its relations with the Palestinian Authority, both in terms of security and the transferral of funds.
Speaking anonymously, an Israeli official stated:
“The prime minister [Binyamin Netanyahu] has said repeatedly, the Palestinian Authority must choose between peace and Hamas. They cannot have both. Our security co-operation with the Palestinian Authority, for example, has been based on the commitment of both sides to fighting terrorism. If Hamas is in the government, what will this mean?”
America has already threatened to cut funding should the reconciliation proceed. The US is one of the Palestinian Authority’s most significant donors, having invested more than $3.5bn (£2.2bn) since the authority was established in the mid-90s
Abbas is grasping at straws and putting the two state solution in jeopardy in going to Cairo to meet Mashal - rather than travelling to Jerusalem to resume direct negotiations with Israel.
Abbas is lucky that his last attempt at moving unilaterally to join the United Nations ended in ignominy. Success would have had serious repercussions for the two state solution.
He seems set to have his luck continue by failing to achieve anything in his meeting with Meshaal this Friday.