Has Mahmoud Abbas got the guts for reconciliation?

Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinians welcome the latest reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas but their joy is tempered by the failure of previous agreements, the first signed in Cairo, and the second in Doha, which were never implemented, writes Abdelbari Atwan

The aim was to establish national unity and form a consensus government but what happened was exactly the opposite, ending with an escalation of conflict and mutual recriminations.

The most recent agreement came amidst a worsening situation on the ground for both parties. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas had banked on gaining some modest successes in his peace process negotiations with Israel, but the latter reneged even on the prisoner release agreement which was Abbas’s last hope.

Meanwhile, Hamas has lost a strong regional ally in Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood which is under attack by the current military regime and other regional powers such as Saudi Arabia. It is in a state of paralysis due to the ongoing blockade of the Gaza strip by Israel and the collaboration of Egypt in this.

Both parties are deeply affected by the financial sanctions imposed by Israel in the wake of the breakdown of peace talks. Neither are able to pay their public sector employees salaries.

The current agreement envisages a federation which would keep the existing administrative structure, with Hamas retaining control of Gaza and taking care of its security. The PA in Ramallah would retain its governmental and security role.

The new agreement has not been mediated by another Arab country but came at the initiative of President Abbas. A key point will be whether or not Abbas intends to continue the PA’s security coordination with Israel. That would be unacceptable to Hamas.

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Israel announced a freeze of negotiations and said that it would respond to unilateral steps by the Palestinian Authority with a series of “punitive measures”.

United States

The biggest challenge President Abbas’s initiative comes from the United States with State Department spokesperson, Jen Psaki saying: “It’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government [Hamas] that doesn’t recognize its right to exist.” The US also intimated that it may cut its financial aid to the PA if the agreement goes ahead.

The American position demonstrates unthinking support for Israel’s racist agenda. How could reconciliation between the parties hinder the peace process when it would create a situation where negotiations would involve all Palestinians of whatever political hue and a genuine chance for a lasting peace deal?

Hamas rally in Gaza
Hamas rally in Gaza

We do not know how resolute President Abbas will be in resisting the volley of threats from the US and Israel. Judging by past experience, he is likely to capitulate without having gained anything. This is why all previous agreements have failed to be implemented.

It may well be, as in the past, that reconciliation is simply a prospect, a threat in fact, with which to frighten and pressurize Israel into making some meagre concession such as releasing the latest batch of Palestinian political prisoners. Then, perhaps, Israel will release the taxes it collects on behalf of the PA (what a ridiculous situation to begin with) and “agree” to return to the endless cycle of negotiations which benefits only Tel Aviv as a smoke screen for further settlements.

We very much hope – along with the vast majority of the Palestinian people – that our cynicism and doubt is misplaced and that President Abbas will prove capable of withstanding, even defying, American and Israel threats, moving swiftly on to forming a technocratic government in anticipation of imminent elections.

We are at the threshold of a historic breakthrough for the Palestinian cause. We urge President Abbas to have the courage to take the necessary steps and keep on that new path by any means necessary.

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