Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The PA Unity Government

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Update from AIJAC

March 20, 2007
Number 03/07 #07

A Palestinian unity government incorporating both the dominant Hamas and Fatah factions, discussed for many months, was finally installed over the weekend. This Update deals with the details and implications.

First up, the reliably knowledgeable Palestinian Affairs reporter for the Jerusalem Post, Khaled Abu Toameh, looks in detail at what the political platform  of the new government (full text here) says and does not say. He points out that it uses ambiguity to allow both sides to make claims to have kept their principles, but despite differing interpretations, it certainly does not appear to meet the three conditions for aid and recognition demanded by the Quartet. For this important look at the detail of what the new government says it stands for, CLICK HERE.

Next up, the Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot reports on the analysis of the new deal given by Yuval Diskin, head of Israel's Shin Bet internal intelligence service, including what Palestinian factions are saying about the deal. He also surveyed the likely reactions from Europe and the Arab states. The article also quotes reactions by Israeli PM Olmert and Foreign Minister Livni, and to read it all, CLICK HERE.

Finally, Ha'aretz Palestinian Affairs reporter Avi Issacharoff says the new deal may actually spell the beginning of the end for Fatah. He says senior Fatah officials warn that the deal will end Fatah efforts to reconstitute itself as a serious alternative to Hamas. He says there are growing signs of Hamas gaining control of Palestinian society, while Fatah remains divided internally and inept. For this important analysis of where the new deal may lead Palestinian politics, CLICK HERE.


Analysis: Strategically crafted ambiguity

Khaled Abu Toameh

THE JERUSALEM POST
Mar. 16, 2007

The political program of the new Palestinian Authority unity government, which constitutes a compromise between the relatively pragmatist policies of Fatah and the radical ideology of Hamas, contains many contradictions and ambiguities.

The wording of the program has been drafted in such a way so as to allow both Hamas and Fatah to argue that neither party had totally abandoned its traditional position.

The equivocal tone is designed to appease not only Hamas and Fatah, but also the Americans and Europeans. After all, the main goal behind the formation of the new coalition is to get the international community to resume desperately needed financial aid to the Palestinians.

With regard to the three demands of the Quartet - renouncing terrorism, recognizing Israel and abiding by previous agreements with Israel - the program leaves the door wide open for different interpretations.

On the issue of terrorism, the program states, on the one hand, that the new government "stresses that resistance is a legitimate right of the Palestinian people... and our people have the right to defend themselves against any Israeli aggression." On the other hand, the program says that the new government will "work toward consolidating the tahdiya [period of calm] and extending it [to the West Bank] so that it becomes a comprehensive and mutual truce."

The program sets a number of conditions for halting the "resistance," ending the "occupation" and achieving independence and the right of return for Palestinian refugees, as well as an end to Israeli security measures in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, including the construction of the security fence. In other words, Fatah and Hamas are saying that the violence will continue as long as Israel does not meet these demands.

Regarding recognition of Israel's right to exist, the program does not mention the name Israel.

Instead, it refers to Israel as "The Occupation." It also makes no mention of the two-state solution. Rather, it reiterates the Palestinians' opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state with temporary borders.

Although the document declares that the "key to peace and stability is contingent on ending the occupation of Palestinian lands and recognizing the Palestinian people's right to self-determination," it does not specify which "lands" - those captured by Israel in 1967 or 1948.

Fatah representatives, of course, argue that the program refers only to the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.

Hamas, on the other hand, will be able to argue that the phrase "Palestinian lands" applies also to all of Mandatory Palestine.

Referring to the third demand of the Quartet - abiding by agreements between the PLO and Israel - the political program states that the new government will only "respect" agreements signed by the PLO.

Hamas leaders have already explained that there is a huge difference between "respecting" an agreement and making a pledge to fulfill it.

In other words, Hamas is saying that while it accepts the agreements with Israel as an established fact, it will not carry them out.

Elsewhere in the program, the new government says that it will abide by unspecified United Nations and Arab summit resolutions, leaving the door open for Fatah to claim that this is tantamount to recognizing the two-state solution and all the agreements with Israel. Fatah will cite the 2002 Arab peace plan that implicitly recognizes Israel.

Hamas, on the other hand, can always claim that among the Arab summit resolutions that it intends to abide by is the one taken in Khartoum, Sudan, in September 1967. The resolution contains what became known as "the three nos" of Arab-Israel relations at that time: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel.

Although the program makes it clear that the PLO, and not the new Hamas-led coalition, will be responsible for conducting negotiations with Israel, it also seeks to tie the hands of PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas by stating that any "fateful" agreement must be approved by the Palestinians in the PA-controlled areas and abroad through a referendum.

The program, moreover, closes the door to any potential concessions on the problem of the refugees by emphasizing their "right of return to their lands and property inside Israel."

As far as Israel is concerned, perhaps the immediate ray of hope lies in a promise by the unity government to "encourage" and "back" efforts to release kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, who has been in the Gaza Strip since last June.

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Shin Bet: Economic pressure on PA to be reduced

Organization chief tells cabinet meeting establishment of new unity government may cause moderate EU countries to reduce economic pressure on Hamas

Ronny Sofer

Ynetnews.com
03.18.07

"The establishment of the (Palestinian) unity government may reduce the economic pressure on Hamas, particularly by the moderate part of the European Union," Shin Bet Chief Yuval Diskin said Sunday.

Diskin told the cabinet meeting that "this week about $20 million were paid in salaries by the Palestinian Authority, some of the sum finances by the Palestinian president's office and the Finance Ministry. These were not funds transferred by Israel .

"In spite of this payment, the Palestinian government is finding it difficult to meet its obligations to its workers. The government expects funds to come in from the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia, and (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas is exerting efforts to get the Americans to help him," Diskin said.

The Shin Bet chief also addressed Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's speech during the new government's swearing-in ceremony Saturday.

"Haniyeh said that the government was committed to diplomatic agreements signed. He did not refer to the Quartet principles. The honoring of the agreements will be subject to maintaining the Palestinian people's main interests. This gives Abbas freedom of operation as far as (Haniyeh) is concerned," he said.

'Infighting could affect new government'

Diskin also referred to the Hamas-Fatah government's basic principles.

"Haniyeh spoke about aspiring to establish a Palestinian state in the 1967 border, with Jerusalem as its capital. He stressed the right of return based on UN Resolution 194. On the security level, the Palestinian prime minister says that resistance, in all its forms, is legitimate. He talks about the Palestinian government's effort to stabilize the truce and expand it, in return for a halt of the occupation by Israel."

The Shin Bet chief also referred to the Arab states' stance regarding the Palestinian unity government.

"The Arab countries welcome the agreement and demand that the new Palestinian government is recognized. They call for the economic siege to be lifted. I view the Arab League summit in Riyadh as important. I assume that it will strengthen the Mecca agreement . I believe they will also refer to the Arab peace initiative from February 2002," he said.

Referring to the clashes between Hamas and Fatah, Diskin said, "I believe the tensions between Fatah and Hamas are still high. The clashes, which I call anarchy clashes, are still going on. Last week's incidents, the murder and kidnappings, prove that there is still a lot of tension in the street. This tension could affect what is happening in the government."

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert addressed Palestinian President Abbas' actions.

"If Abbas would take other actions (regarding the release of Gilad Shalit and the war on terro), we would have more room for a dialogue with him. But I do not suggest severing ties with him. We must continue talking with him, particularly about improving the Palestinian quality of life.

"On the other hand, we must not be vague. We cannot have ties with a government that justifies resistance or, in other words, terror. This is unthinkable," he said.

'EU to judge PA gov't according to its acts'

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni spoke with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and foreign ministers of four European countries over the weekend.

Livni said that the EU countries were seeking to examine whether the new Palestinian government would meet the Quartet conditions.

"Europe is saying 'we want to judge them according to their acts.' This in fact means giving them time, which let them see if there is terror or there isn't terror, will Gilad Shalit be release. The European perspective has not changed, and they are continuing to examine the Palestinians," she said.

"The question is whether Europe plans to judge the Palestinian government as one organization," the foreign minister continued. "In some European countries Hamas is defined as a terror group, and as a result the movement's ministers have not met officials of those countries.

"I believe Abu Mazen (Abbas) will seek a differentiation in Europe. Those who will not talk with Hamas minister might be ready to talk to Fatah ministers."

Asked whether European countries will pressure Israel to negotiate with the Palestinian unity government, Livni said, "I believe Europe does not expect Israel to talk to the Palestinian government, but only to Abbas. I believe Israel should maintain the Quartet conditions."


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PA Unity / The last nail in the Fatah coffin

By Avi Issacharoff

Haaretz, 18/03/2007

The celebrations in Ramallah and Gaza yesterday of the Palestinian Authority unity government could all too quickly turn into a burial ceremony for Fatah.

The movement over the past year presented itself as a clear political alternative to Hamas. Now it has become Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh's closest ally. Senior Fatah officials opposed to the move worry the organization will thus be identified with failures in the economy, internal security and in creating a political horizon.

The limited protests from senior Fatah figures against Hamas policy will peter out and with them the chances to constitute a real political and cultural competition to the Islamists.

Both Haniyeh and PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas were all smiles yesterday, but Haniyeh and his Hamas associates particularly had reason to be pleased.

Following tough negotiations, Hamas has a majority in the cabinet after Fatah agreed to consider Foreign Minister Ziyad Abu Amar as one of the independent ministers representing it.

The idea of holding elections was rejected, and a crack has appeared in the diplomatic siege of Hamas, while the organization has not changed its ideology: no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it (Abbas will do the dirty work) and "the resistance" - in other words, violence - will go on.

However, the option of Palestinian unity and damage to Fatah was the lesser of two evils. The other possibility for Abbas was civil war. The problem is that until the next elections for president (in less than two years) the Palestinian public will forget that Abbas overcame lesser political considerations and remember primarily that Fatah is not functioning. The movement's reforms of bringing in younger leaders was not enough. Most of the 72,0000 registered members of Fatah know today there is no alternative to Hamas, say young Tanzim leaders in the West Bank.

The sixth party convention has become a stale joke; there seems little chance it will ever be held. The party is in economic crisis, and attempts by senior Fatah officials to impact voters through a social safety net pale in comparison to Hamas' social services network. Corruption in PA institutions and the chaos on the streets are identified with Fatah and its security forces. Above all, the feeling is widespread that no one is in charge in Fatah.

Meanwhile, Hamas is continuing its quiet revolution. Recently 11 Hamas members were appointed to senior posts in the PA Education Ministry, and the number of hours of religious studies has been increased by about 20 percent.

Hamas reaches the hearts of the people, and one of the best ways to do this has always been through the mosques. In 2000, there were 100 of them in Ramallah; today there are 190. Without laws to limit it, Hamas has managed to lead a cultural change in Palestinian society.

Most women in the territories wear head coverings, including some who do so to avoid public criticism. Fewer restaurants sell alcohol and halls for weddings and other festivities are being asked not to host belly-dancers.

Hamas leaders are sounding sure of themselves these days, while working unceasingly to gain new members, and Fatah carries on with its internal struggles.