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Dr Musa A Keilani: Cement the cracks within
February 21, 2012
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The new fissures appearing in the Palestinian ranks threaten not only to set back the quest for peace in Palestine but also the process of Palestinian reconciliation. The leadership of Hamas, the movement which is in control of the Gaza Strip, is split between those in favour of a negotiated once-for-all peace settlement with Israel leading to a two-state solution and those who are not willing to accept the 1967 front lines as the basis for an agreement.

However, the real issue here is the Feb.6 agreement signed by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader-in-exile Khaled Meshaal calling for Abbas to become prime minister of an interim Palestinian government that will prepare the ground for legislative elections in May. The accord advances the agreement that Fatah, which is headed by Abbas, and Hamas signed in Cairo in May 2011.

Israel has been and continuing to warn that it would have nothing to do with a Palestinian government, effectively the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) based in Ramallah in the West Bank, that would result from Fatah-Hamas reconciliation. It calls Hamas a “terrorist” organisation, supported by Iran and dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state. Israeli officials say that the Hamas charter states that “Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.”

Hamas believes that its argument against making peace with Israel on the basis of the two-state solution is the best answer to Israel’s rejection of the 1967 lines as the starting point for peace negotiations. That would not be called off in a hurry.

In the meantime, the internal Palestinian differences are worsening.

The Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), an alliance of eight groups leading the Palestinian struggle for independence, has seen splits within its component factions. Then the Hamas movement emerged in the Gaza Strip in the wake of the first intifada that began in late 1987. The relationship between Hamas and the Fatah-dominated PLO was at best uneasy because the former saw the latter as a Western lackey. The distrust came to a head-on clash in the mid-2000s and Hamas chased out Fatah from the Gaza Strip and seized the territory.

Since then, the international Quartet of Middle East peace mediators – the United States, the European Union, Russia and the UN – have said that Hamas has to renounce armed struggle, recognise Israel’s right to exist and accept signed agreements between the Palestinians and Israel if it were to be accepted as a partner in the quest for peace.

Hamas has not accepted these conditions and it does not look likely that it would ever do so particularly in view of its control of the Gaza Strip.

The Hamas seizure of the territory in 2007 saw what was nominally a collective Palestinian leadership being split and depriving Abbas of support for his effort for a negotiated settlement with Israel, whose leaders have told him he would have to choose between “peace” and Hamas.

It became inevitable that the internal Palestinian differences need to be settled if anyone were to hope for an Israeli-Palestinian agreement. And the quest for Palestinian reconciliation was given a new start with the signing of the Cairo agreement of 2011 and the Doha agreement of 2012. Then came another blow, with the split in Hamas between the Meshaal camp and the movement’s Gaza-based leaders. That adds yet another hurdle in the effort for peace.

Now the Hamas leaders have to reconcile with each other before Hamas-Fatah reconciliation. It seems to be a tough call, given that the Hamas leaders based in Gaza see the Doha agreement as an existential threat since they would have to give up power and see the proposed interim government taking their place in the coastal enclave.

Meshaal said during the signing of the Doha agreement that it would create greater Palestinian unity “in order to be free for confronting” Israel. But the Gaza-based Hamas leaders saw Palestinian unity as a disguised word for the decline of their power. Some of them are determined not to let go of their control of the Gaza Strip, which they see as the best strategic option under the circumstances. Therefore, questions have been raised over the chances of reconciliation between the two Hamas camps. And that means another serious blow for the sought-for broader Palestinian reconciliation.
The author a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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