Talks between Hamas and Fatah aimed at forming a National Unity government in the Palestinian Authority (PA) are currently at an impasse. According to PA President (and Fatah leader) Mahmoud Abbas’ office, discussions stalled because Hamas reneged on its pledge to recognize previous agreements signed between Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization. This pledge—along with renouncing violence and recognizing Israel—comprise the Quartet’s three conditions on which a resumption of funding to the PA is contingent. To date, Hamas has neither agreed to renounce violence nor recognize Israel.
No doubt, Hamas and Fatah will eventually come to terms, as this is the easiest route to a resumption of international funding to the Palestinians. Meanwhile, the increasingly difficult economic situation in the PA has implications for Hamas. A September 18 poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Research (PSR) found 54% of Palestinians were “dissatisfied with the overall performance of the Hamas government.” The level of dissatisfaction jumped to 69% when those surveyed were asked about Hamas’ performance on economic issues.
The economic crisis is so bad that on September 18, a group of protestors and striking workers attacked the motorcade of the PA (Hamas) Prime Minister, Ismail Haniyyeh near the parliament offices in Gaza. In the resulting melee, Haniyyeh’s personal security detail discharged approximately 1000 rounds of ammunition to protect themselves and the Hamas PM.
By default, Fatah has benefited to some degree from Hamas’ political difficulties. But according to the surveys, Hamas’ overall popularity—i.e., would Palestinians vote for Hamas again today?—is holding steady. (In any event, Fatah is no panacea). But the key finding of the PSR survey is that 67% of Palestinians continue to believe that Hamas should not recognize Israel.
Given Hamas’ policy of no compromise and its broad base of support within the PA, the terrorist organization will not renounce its covenant and abandon its political platform to enter into a power-sharing agreement with its weak secular rival, Fatah. More likely, Hamas will find a formula of accommodation with Fatah that does not compromise Hamas’ steadfast rejection of Israel. This National Unity Government agreement is likely to be vague and not meet the Quartet’s criteria, but Abbas will nevertheless attempt to convince the Europeans and Washington that Hamas has changed its stripes.
Already envisioning this scenario, the Bush Administration has made it clear that if the agreement is insufficient, it will continue to oppose transfer of funds to the PA. The danger, of course, is that other parties in the Quartet and Europe will praise the Palestinians for their hard work in reaching such an important agreement and start making plans to transfer money. Before the West jumps back into funding the “new” Palestinian Government—with a Parliament still led by Haniyyeh—we should read between the lines. If the newly minted government of national unity doesn’t meet the minimum standard, the US and the international community should continue to withhold funding.
By David Schenker, via Counterterrorism Blog.