Palestine’s National Consensus Government is no such thing

The new Palestinian unity govt

The new Palestinian National Consensus government that was sworn in last Monday under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may offer some respite to Hamas, presently encumbered with financial crises and the heavy burden of administering Gaza; but at the same time, the new administrative arrangement will weaken the movement and lead to internal crises in the foreseeable future, writes Abdelbari Atwan.

The siege of Gaza has worsened since a military coup removed elected Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi, increasing Hamas’s problems due to the near permanent closure of the Rafah crossing and the destruction of more than one thousand tunnels that were a lifeline for Gaza’s economy; in addition, the Egyptian media has been waging a vicious campaign against Hamas.

Hamas has put all its eggs in one basket – and that basket belongs to Abbas. They have conceded to all his demands and conditions. But Abbas’s basket is full of holes and he is facing severe crises of his own – not least the abject failure of the peace talks with Israel. Like Hamas, Abbas is not likely to actually improve his lot, but is merely jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

When I say that Hamas waved the white flag and gave in to all of Abbas’ conditions and demands, I am referring to its relinquishing three major ministerial portfolios: the foreign ministry — Hamas first rejected Riyad al-Maliki remaining in that role but agreed after Abbas insisted; the ministry of religious affairs — Hamas proposed a candidate who was not selected; and finally, the ministry of prisoner affairs which was reduced to a Commission under Israeli and American pressure.

Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas

One cannot therefore describe this as a government of “national consensus” by any stretch of the imagination — despite Hamas welcoming its installation at the last minute. Rather it is the government of Abbas and his authority. The four Gaza ministers, all of them independents, were not even permitted to travel to Ramallah for the swearing-in ceremony, except for Ziad Abu Amra, the minister of culture who was already there!

It is difficult to be optimistic about the ability of this government to achieve its greatest responsibility which is organizing presidential and legislative elections in an envisaged six-month time frame.

In addition, Israel has announced that it will neither recognize nor deal with this new government. The only thing that might change minds in Tel Aviv would be enormous concessions, such as Abbas dropping key pre-requisites for a return to the negotiating table, such as the release of a fourth batch of prisoners and freezing settlement building.

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Contradictory statements from Hamas leaders and spokespersons in the final hours before the government was sworn in reveal the confusion within the movement’s ranks. They also reveal the clear divisions between two factions within Hamas: one that from the beginning of the “reconciliation” process opposed giving the keys of government back to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and creating a consensus government according to Abbas’ conditions; the other envisages – given the severe financial crisis and siege – Hamas giving up administering the Gaza strip and returning to the pre-2007 status quo.

It is perhaps it is too early to judge Hamas’ decisions and choices, but there is no doubt that Abbas dictated all the conditions and put a gun to Hamas’ head, telling them, in effect, “either you accept or I will put a bullet into the reconciliation agreement.” Hamas, or at least the prevailing faction within it, preferred to accept Abbas’ terms, dropping all the movement’s objections.

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