The reconciliation agreement signed by Fatah and Hamas is the old “Egyptian paper” with a protocol that added Hamas’ reservations.
It marks an outstanding political achievement for Mahmoud Abbas. He well understands that Europe is eager to have a Palestinian state materialize, and any indication of the viability of that vision may encourage Europe to support the planned UN vote in support of a Palestinian state in September. In fact, major European parties such as Spain, Britain and France have encouraged the PA to follow the track of a unilateral declaration of statehood.
U.S. President Barack Obama is an enthusiastic supporter of Palestinian statehood, but because he lost the majority in the pro-Israel House of Representatives, he cannot pressure Israel in the open. So he exerts pressure through the Europeans.
The EU foreign minister, Catherine Ashton, was quick to announce that the EU will study the new situation and gave no reference to the Quartet conditions: that Hamas must recognize Israel, endorse all PLO agreements, and denounce terror.
But there was little real value from the agreement on the ground. The most we can expect is a ceasefire in the Gaza region until September: Hamas will not want to explode the situation on the eve of the UN session and does not wish to be blamed for the failure of the statehood project.
Yet the Hamas-Fatah disputes remain. Abbas defined Hamas in an interview with Egypt’s Al-Ahram as the “opposition,” while Hamas perceives itself as the government, not the opposition, based on its victory in the elections five years ago and the agreement by Abbas to resume the work of the Hamas-led Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in Ramallah. Abbas’ definition does not match Hamas’ self-image and expectations, once the PLC is back in place.
To stress this point, Hamas leader Khaled Mash’al demanded to sit on the podium at the agreement-signing ceremony and give an address of the same length as that given by Abbas. This dispute was settled with a compromise – Mash’al was seated in the first row in front of the podium and was permitted to give a speech shorter than that of Abbas. Hamas is insisting on having an equal footing with Abbas and he refuses. This is an extremely sensitive issue that is bound to explode.
Another manifestation of this same dispute was the argument about the identity of the new prime minister to replace Salam Fayyad. Abbas accepted the Hamas demand to select a prime minister from Gaza because he also wanted to see Fayyad out. But the two proposed candidates reflect deep differences over how to proceed. Abbas’ candidate is the former foreign minister in the unity government that was established after the ill-fated Mecca accords, Ziyad Abu Amru, while the Hamas candidate is the NGO operative Jamal al-Kudari.
The differences between the two are stark. While Abu Amru is an academician close to both Abbas and Hamas, and splits his time between Gaza and Ramallah, Kudari is responsible for organizing the “freedom flotillas” to break the closure on Gaza. While Abu Amru will cooperate with Ramallah in promoting the statehood project, Khudari may well promote more freedom flotillas that may create the provocations that could topple the statehood project.
The distancing of Fayyad may create other problems. First, the donor community may not trust anyone else for the continuation of donations to the PA. This may trigger the EU to decide that it cannot support any government that is not led by Fayyad. We have seen indications that Fayyad has already begun to work against the new government. It was also noticeable that pro-Fayyad people in the PLO leadership, such as Yasser Abd Rabbo, who were invited to Cairo, did not attend.
Given EU eagerness to give the independence project a chance, the Europeans may well try to convince Fayyad to give up his premiership but still be responsible for the treasury. We doubt whether Fayyad will agree; Hamas and Abbas will probably not.