Palestinians drag feet on reconciliation path


Rival Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas are delaying implementation of their reconciliation accord, paying lip-service to the deal while each pursues its own agenda, analysts say.

Last April, the rivals signed a reconciliation agreement which stipulated the holding of fresh presidential and legislative elections in May 2012 and the quick formation of an interim government of independents in the meantime.

The deal also called for a prisoner exchange, removal of restrictions on the distribution of each movement’s newspapers in the other’s territory and the issue of passports to Gaza residents by the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority.

But the implementation has been painfully slow, with successive rounds of talks at various levels attempting to speed up the process.

Hamas last week gave the long-awaited green light for the reopening of offices of the Central Election Commission in its Gaza fiefdom.

But the CEC still awaits a decree from Palestinian president and Fatah chief Mahmud Abbas authorizing it to update electoral rolls unchanged since the last election six years ago.

The vote saw the Islamist Hamas score a landslide victory, shocking the long dominant Fatah. Their longtime rivalry erupted a year later in the summer of 2007 into bloody fighting that saw Hamas expel Fatah from Gaza.

Both sides have stressed their desire to repair the rift, but political scientist Mukhaimer Abu Saada of Gaza’s al-Azhar University said little of the deal appeared to have been implemented.

“On political prisoners, we hear that they are close; that the issue of Palestinian passports, newspapers will be settled,” he told AFP. “Every day we hear new promises.”

“They each still have their own calculations,” said Omar Shaaban of Palestinian think-tank Palthink in Gaza, suggesting both sides hope to strengthen their positions.

“(Abbas) thinks he can get something out of talks with Israel and Hamas relies on the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. They want to wait.”

Earlier this month, independent Palestinian MP Mustafa Barghuthi, who heads a committee charged with helping implement the deal, warned that it was not being implemented.

“Talks have not started on the formation of the government, giving the impression that the deadlines have no value,” he said.

Although surveys of voter intentions give Fatah high scores, the movement fears entering a presidential fight with anything less than a cast-iron candidate, according to Mahdi Abdul Hadi of the Jerusalem think-tank PASSIA.

“Even though Abbas told them, ‘I’m not running,’ they did not believe him and could not find an alternative,” he told AFP.

Within Hamas, he said, a gap has opened between the head of the Hamas government in Gaza, Ismail Haniya, and the leader of the movement in exile in Damascus, Khaled Meshaal.

“There is a power struggle between Hamas in Gaza and Damascus,” he said.

Meshaal arrived in Jordan on Sunday on his first official visit there since his expulsion in 1999, a trip seen as a turning point in historically difficult relations between Amman and the Islamist movement.

Haniya was to leave on Monday for a regional tour that includes a stop in Iran, which radically opposes any compromise with Israel.

Hamas, analysts say, wants assurances that it will not undergo a repeat of the past, where despite its election win it found itself widely shunned abroad over its refusal to disavow violence, recognize Israel and commit to agreements signed by Israel and the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization.

Despite mutual suspicions, Abu Saada said, Fatah and Hamas are ultimately obliged to be partners.

“The guarantee is that there will be a political partnership between Fatah and Hamas in any future government,” he said. “This was agreed during the meeting between Mahmud Abbas and Khaled Meshaal in November.”