The PLO and Hamas on April 23, 2014, signed an agreement to end their split in a festive ceremony in Gaza, but it is too early to determine that indeed the two pillars of the Palestinian polity have reached a real agreement. Doubts have already been heard on the two sides. At a press conference, Mussa Abu Marzuq, Hamas leader Khaled Mash’al’s deputy, said that the agreement is a “formality” and that the two sides bypassed the discussion on the political agenda, which is to be left to the talks on the composition of the government.
This is a crucial point: will Hamas renounce the “resistance”? Will Fatah return to “resistance”? This is the bottom line and a source for doubt. From this emanates practical questions: will the PLO end its security cooperation with Israel? The answer is no – it is obvious that this cooperation will continue – and this cooperation is directed against Hamas.
Having said that, we don’t exclude an agreement that will lead to the establishment of an “accord government” – but this possible government will lead nowhere. We have already seen an agreement on a unity government reached in Mecca that collapsed in Hamas’ bloody takeover in Gaza. Without agreement on a political agenda, there is no meaning to having a formal government, but we still doubt whether they will even reach the stage of having a government.
Although the parties declared that the agreement only reconfirmed the old Doha and Cairo agreements that were not respected, the Shati agreement is different on two basic points. The Doha agreement was all about preparing for new elections and specified that the government will be established only after a date for elections will be fixed, and the sole mission of the government would have been only to prepare for these elections. However, the nature of the Shati agreement is different: it is not an “elections” government but an “accord” government; its mission is not elections and no date for elections is specified. So, once such an “accord” government is established, it may stay for a long time without elections.
Another point of difference is the identity of the future prime minister. While the Doha agreement specified Mahmoud Abbas as the prime minister, the Shati agreement left this question open and hints were spread that “we cannot impose too many duties on Abbas.” Palestinian sources in Ramallah told us that the candidate for prime minister is Nasser Shaer, a Hamas figure from Nablus. If indeed he will be the leading candidate – and it is far too early to confirm this – it may pave the way for Hamas’ Khaled Mash’al to run for president in the West Bank – but such considerations at this stage are premature.
Why did the parties decide to launch this reconciliation initiative now? The reasons involve an accumulation of developments. The difficult conditions in Gaza need no elaboration, but also the situation in Ramallah is not brilliant. Abbas is looking for a way out of the grip of the Kerry initiative, and without the peace process, donations from the West are not secure. Although Abbas looked for ways to extend the negotiations – and they still might be extended – the mood of Fatah’s top echelons was very negative during the past week. Actually, Abbas postponed a Fatah Central Committee meeting several times, fearing that it would have blown up all further efforts to extend the negotiations.
After the Shati agreements were signed, there were manifestations of joy in both Ramallah and Gaza among ordinary citizens, but a look at Facebook pages gave the impression that most of all, ordinary Palestinians are basically concerned with their economic conditions. Hence, the agreement will be judged on the basis of whether it will lead to relief in the “siege” of Gaza and the resumption of salaries to old Fatah personnel in Gaza, as well as in securing the flow of money to pay salaries in the West Bank administration.
Here, the role of Qatar in supplying an economic safety belt and in financing the needs of Jerusalem will be crucial. There are reports that Qatar is actually behind the reconciliation. At the recent Kuwait summit the provision of a “safety net” was conditioned on Palestinian reconciliation. Now, after Qatar promised Saudi Arabia it would stop financing the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar can say that its continued support for Hamas – a Muslim Brotherhood movement – will henceforth be as part of the Palestinian unity government.
To sum up: the Shati agreement is preliminary and there is still a long way to go. It will be judged on the economic benefits it yields to the ordinary Palestinian. Qatar seems to be the party that triggered it, and it is its role now to guarantee the safety net for economic success that will be the core factor in keeping the agreement moving ahead.