Wednesday, May 21, 2014
This report is based on several talks with senior Palestinian sources in Ramallah.
The mood in Ramallah is skeptical but all sources agree that a unity government finally will be established but all sources question its value and its chances to survive.
The Fatah sources say that the motivation came from Hamas because of its tough situation in Gaza and the prime need to regulate Rafah crossing. Abu Mazen grasped the opportunity and passed it through Qatar. He informed Egypt that told him: OK, but they are not enthusiastic. Egypt indifference caused the first problem- Hamas is demanding to regulate Rafah crossing already now and greeted the Ramallah security team that will be responsible on Rafah crossing border, but Egypt was not ready to regulate. Not now and not later—only to be engaged with Ramallah and not with Gaza in all matters- including the Rafah crossing. Hamas even blamed Egypt that the moment they heard about the intention to have the agreement – they intensified the operation of destroying the tunnels. When they heard Abu Mazen himself saying that dealing with Rafah crossing will be dealt only after the establishment of the government- they expressed displeasure with Azzam al-Ahmad. So, the main issue that interests Hamas – does not develop in the direction they expected.
The main issue that concern Fatah is the future of the Qassam Brigades. Azzam al-Ahmad told Hamas that the continuation of the Brigades can be compared to Hizbullah in Lebanon and that Abu Mazen sticks to the principle of "one weapon", but Hamas is not convinced and they are not ready to dismantle the Qassam Brigades.
In her last visit in Ramallah Susan Rice gave Saeb Areiqat a paper in which she defined the limits of the Fatah-Hamas unity and according to our sources the paper is demanding Hamas to recognize Israel and in her meeting with Abu Mazen- the Palestinian leader was confident that the process of reconciliation and Hamas plight in Gaza – the recognition of Hamas is inevitable. He mentioned Musa Abu Marzuq as the one who will lead the recognition. But Abu Marzuq himself- when talked to Azzam – said only that Hamas will recognize the PLO's agreements with Israel but did not say that Hamas will recognize Israel. Important part of Abu Marzuq's talks in Gaza was about evaluating the future of Moslem Brothers in Egypt that is not promising. So, what both Fatah and Hamas leaders could have understood from him is that the old aspiration of Hamas to be part of Egypt Moslem Brothers must be re-evaluated. This led the PLO leaders in Ramallah to develop hopes that in the process of the unity talks- Hamas may split and a part of it—Abu Marzuq and Haniyya – will ultimately recognize Israel and by doing so will actually leave Moslem Brotherhood.
After Rice demanded that Hamas will recognize Israel, secretary of state, John Kerry, initiated a meeting with Abu Mazen in London, in order to tell him that not Hamas is demanded to do it, but only the unity government. Abu Mazen also met the British Prime Minister David Cameron and according to our Palestinian sources Cameron objected the candidacy of the current Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, because his objection to the security cooperation between IDF and the Palestinians. The British are deeply invested in the project and cannot let it collapse. While Hamas recognition in Israel is not needed to the unity government- it is needed to permit Hamas to participate in eh elections.
So, the identity of next Prime Minister is still to be determined. As for now Abu Mazen is saying that he tired and not interested in the position but it is obvious that Hamdallah will not be able to move between the West Bank and Gaza and at least GB is against him.
This takes us to another problem – the mobility of the PM and the ministers between Ramallah and Gaza. Azzam al-Ahmad told Hamas that the ministers must be of the kind that Israel will not be able to block their movement. Here I have to mention a report that I heard some time ago that the one who was a candidate to become a Prime Minster was Sari Nusseiba from east Jerusalem, but we don’t know his relevance to the current talks.
Hamas prefers Hamdallah, but Fatah is reserved of him because he belongs to the radical left that Fatah never trusted, put aside the western rejection to Hamdallah. I would like to mention here that the West strongly rejected the removal of Fayyad—so what? He was removed…
Another major problem is the elections and the reforming of the PLO. There is no way that the elections to the PLO institutions in the diaspora can be held- Jordan will not permit it on its territory and the situation in Syria and Lebanon cannot permit it either. So, the only way is to have new nominations in agreement- it is too complicated inside the PLO alone—and adding Hamas to he PLO is impossible. This alone can explode the entire situation. The PLO sources added that also elections to the PA institutions: the president and the PLC is dangerous for them because it will open the door open for Khaled Mash'al to run. Mash'al origin is from a village near Ramallah- so this will give a strong presence to Hamas in Ramallah islet – the stronghold of Fatah. They said that currently Mash'al is not a Palestinian citizen, so he cannot run, but if he will express willingness to run—there will be no way to avoid it.
In addition to the domestic complications there are regional complications. Egypt and Saudi Arabia do not like the high profile of Qatar in the process. Qatar allocated 65$ million (or 95$ I don’t remember the exact figure) which is not enough but Azzam al-Ahmad reported that if the process swill be successful- Qatar will give as much as is needed to finance a successful process. But Saudi Arabia perceives the process as part of the struggle with Qatar- and threatened that the moment Qatar takes the lead – they will stop all aid to the Palestinians- 275$ annual aid. It is meaningful that neither Fatah nor Hamas are referring to the Saudi reconciliation effort- the Mecca accords – as reference to the process.
The financial aspect is critical- somebody has to finance the sa`laries to the administration and the redemption to the victims of the violent takeover in Gaza. So far the money is not found. In addition there is the future of the Fatah employees in Gaza that are receiving salaries as long they do not go to work. During the weekend Hamas Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyya, met with the representatives of Hamas' staff assuring them that they stay in place under all condition. So what will be with the Fatah employees? If they return it means that we shall have a double administration- to every post – two employees.. Who is going to pay for this? No answer to this problem yet.
Another problem is what will be the situation with Haniyya once he will not be any longer the Hamas Prime Minister. Al-Ahmad suggested to him to be the head of the PLC- the Palestinian Legislative Council. He reported to the Fatah leadership that Haniyya attitude "was positive". But this suggestion is complicated because another Hamas senior figure, Aziz Dweik from Hebron is lraedy the PLC speaker – how can he be repalced? According to the basic law the speaker is the successor of the president- will Fatah really be ready to put a senior Gaza leader in a position of successor? I doubt.
Nevertheless a declaration of unity government cannot be avoided – but Fatah' leadership in Ramallah is very skeptical.
Sum up- although an announcement of government is expected- the problems remain:
1. Hamas recognition in Israel
2. The Qassam Brigades
3. The administration
4. The redemptions
5. Egypt refusal to regulate Rafah crossing
6. The identity of the Prime Minister.