Hamas and Fatah leaders have been meeting Cairo this week to continue hammering out the details of the third unity agreement they’ve tried to reach in the past five years. The agreement would give Mahmoud Abbas the authority to appoint a transitional cabinet, sidelining Hamas and, in theory, his own Fatah party. Officially, Hamas’s top leaders – Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh – have committed to them. But Al-Ahram, Egypt’s state-owned daily, is reporting that Hamas is determined to secure their own concessions from Abbas in exchange for allowing him to assume the post of interim prime minister. It is not clear which Hamas leaders are pushing these measures, though if there is a concerted effort from within the group, I would not be surprised to see the name of their #2 man in Gaza, Mahmoud Zahhar, pop up.
If this debate is indeed going on as Al-Ahram describes, it first of all shows that despite efforts to show unity, Hamas’s Gazan leadership is still livid over Khaled Mashaal’s decision to conclude the Doha agreement without consulting them first, and is determined to ensure that it gets a “fair share” of the spoils, which are spelled out in no uncertain terms:
“conditions also feature Hamas’s selection of one of its leaders to assume the post of deputy prime minister and handling of three ministerial portfolios which include the Interior, Justice and Finance ministries … Hamas also wants to select 15% of the members of this government”
The three ministries named are the ones Hamas would most need in order to reinsert itself in the West Bank after losing much of its organizational apparatus there following the 2007 split with Fatah, because since then, Israel and the Palestinian National Authority have cooperated to root out Hamas operatives in the West Bank. This is simply pragmatic self-interest on Hamas’s part. Control of the Justice and Interior ministries would put the movement in a position to influence court decisions and to control appointments/hirings among the internal security forces. Given the power of the purse, a Hamas Minister of Finance would be able to channel money to favored projects and organizations: Hamas’s successes have, since the 1980s in part stemmed from the popular support its charitable and welfare activities generate.
[Editor’s note: Hard to see of a MoF controlled by Hamas would be dealt with by the international community that finances the PA! Or how a Hamas Interior Minister would be accepted by security forces that are basically Fatah gangs trained by US forces! This plan implies a break with the US, at the very least.]
In theory, it would only be fair to give the office of deputy prime minister to Ismail Haniyeh since he is the de facto prime minister of Gaza, or to Hamas’s legislative leader, Ismail al-Ashkar – yet Abbas and Mashaal seem to have already ruled out doing such a thing while meeting in Doha.
These demands are not at all surprising, but they could become yet another stumbling block on the road to fulfilling the unity agreement.
Hamas might settle for some compromise – its leaders, if they are serious about implementing the unity agreement, must know that Abbas will not agree to all of these demands – but a compromise by either Abbas or Mashaal here would be hard for their followers to swallow. Al-Ahram notes that Abbas “will [likely] refuse these conditions, as he is insisting on choosing figures who are accepted on the international level to occupy these sensitive positions.” He’d have to reverse his position, or agree to allot certain ministerial posts to Hamas members ahead of the legislative and prime ministerial elections that are theoretically going to be held in a few months. Either way, he’d look like he was caving in and end up antagonizing both the US and Israel by making concessions. Israel has made clear it will not negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas members, and giving any of these portfolios to Hamas members would jeopardize distribution of US aid to the Palestinian National Authority.
The talks in Cairo are now reportedly on hold as a result of Hamas’s demands.
There was an unmistakable hint of triumph in the comments made by Ismail Haniyeh, Prime Minister of the elected Hamas government in Gaza when he was hosted by Mohammed Badie, Supreme Guide of Egypt's
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The leader of Gaza's ruling Islamist group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh has strongly condemned the killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan, hailing him as 'an Arab mujahadeen fighter.
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The first stage in the Israeli-Palestinian prisoner exchange deal related to long-held Israeli POW Gilad Shalit took place today, with the exchange of 19 Palestinian women prisoners for a two-minute video of Shalit, that showed him apparently well, and well treated.
This exchange is a ‘first payment’ by each side on a deal that is expected to eventually involve Shalit’s return to his family in Israel and Israel’s return to their families of some 1,000 of the 11,000 or so Palestinian political prisoners it currently holds, the vast majority of them noncombatants, most of whom have never had anything even resembling a fair trial.
Ma’an reports that Mahmoud Abbas, the time-expired president of the Palestinian Interim Authority, vowed today “to continue efforts toward releasing every prisoner who has spent decades in Israeli jails.”
This is fairly pathetic. Everyone in Palestine (and elsewhere) knows that Abbas played no role whatever in the negotiations, which have been conducted between the elected Hamas leadership in Gaza and the Israeli government, using Egypt and Germany as intermediaries.
Maan reported from Gaza that the elected PIA prime minister Ismail Haniyeh
- said the swap was ‘a victory for the resistance and the Palestinian will,’ adding that it ‘opened the door for a respectable deal.’
… Haniyeh also praised Egypt and Germany for their collective role in wrapping up the deal…
The Gaza leader said the Islamic movement had handled the exchange in a way that put national interests first, by demanding that women and girls affiliated with various factions be released rather than just Hamas.
Two things occur to me. First, that Germany’s fairly recent involvement in the prisoner exchange negotiations seems to have added some good momentum to the effort. Egypt had been doing the mediating all alone ever since Shalit was captured in June 2006, and hadn’t achieved anything. Germany has long experience of the many small steps involved in such negotiations– dating back to when German mediators orchestrated complex swaps of spies from both sides during the Cold War in Europe.
More recently, German mediators organized the several big swaps of live prisoners and human remains carried out between Israel and Hizbullah over recent years.
I imagine that the Egyptian authorities could have been as successful as the German if they’d really wanted to. But they never really did. So it was interesting that in the end the Israelis agreed to involve the Germans as well.
The second thought that occurs to me is that the Shalit-related prisoner-swap process should, hopefully, proceed through at least one further step, and may involve more than one further step. Some reports, for example, speak of a step whereby Shalit gets released to the egyptians and a further one when he gets sent home to Israel.
But anyway, throughout this whole period, the Hamas negotiators will be getting a lot of attention in the region and beyond; and among Palestinians and other Arabs the vast preponderance of that attention will almost certainly be favorable… And all that Abbas can do, meanwhile, is stand on the sidelines.
Not good for his political standing.
Several other things have been denting his standing badly recently, as well. Including the humiliating decision he took to participate in the three-way with Netanyahu last week (even though Israel’s settlement construction continues apace)– and equally humiliating decision his people made yesterday to drop its request that the UN Human Rights Council refer the Goldstone Report to the Security Council.
The Canadian-Israeli management guru Bernard Avishai has published a paean to Salam Fayyad in the current issue of Harper’s magazine.
This raised for me, yet again, a question that I’ve thought about a lot over the past year: Does Salam Fayyad have a chance of ending up like Nuri al-Maliki, the as-it-turned-out fairly deft Iraqi politician who became Prime Minister in an Iraqi parliament that was elected while his country was still under full-scale US occupation– but who was then able to use the rhetoric of “a sovereign Iraq” as well as his own non-trivial political skills to force the Bush administration to sign an agreement mandating the full withdrawal of US forces from Iraq by the end of 2011, no strings attached?
Or, will Fayyad end up being veiwed more like Vidkun Quisling or Marshal Petain, each of whom served as the fairly nominal head of government of a country under a tough and multi-year foreign military occupation?
Well, I know the word “Quisling” long ago took on the aura of a swear-word. But it is quite possible that the original Mr. Quisling, like Petain in France, thought he was doing the best he could for his country, under the circumstances, by agreeing to take on its administration and thereby acting as a kind of buffer between the harshness of the occupiers and the needs of the very vulnerable national population.
The short version of where my thinking is right now on this topic runs as follows:
1. It is important not to ignore the directly anti-constitutional and anti-democratic manner of Fayyad’s appointment as PM. The Interim Palestinian Administration already has a constitutional, democratically elected prime minister. That’s Ismail Haniyeh, whose party won the parliamentary elections of January 2006. But Haniyeh’s administration has been (quite artifically and anti-constitutionally) hemmed into Gaza, and has also come under continuing and strong attack from Israel, most often with the full support and blessing of the US. Fayyad, by contrast, was the head of a party that won only two seats in the 2006 election. He was parachuted in to become ‘prime minister’ of the secessionary branch of the PA in June 2007, after the Americans, Israelis, and Muhammad Dahlan had decided to break up the National Unity Government that existed for a few brief months before then.
In this respect, Fayyad is more like Quisling or Petain, both of whom were installed and maintained in power by their respective occupying forces, than he is like Maliki, who was installed in a more or less free and fair election– but one that was, admittedly, conducted under rules completely dictated by the US occupiers and organized and guarded by the occupation forces.
2. Despite the anti-democratic nature of Fayyad’s accession to, and continued grip on, power, I am certainly prepared to entertain the possibility that he sees himself as a sincere patriot, acting in what he judges to be the best interests of his people. I think the same could also be said of Maliki, Quisling, and Petain.
3. The key dimension of the “Maliki difference”, that is, the factor that allowed Maliki– despite the US-dominated circumstances of his election and early period in power– to act with an ever-increasing degree of independence from the occupation forces, was the proximity and ubiquitous influence of Iran within even the US-occupied heart of Iraq. Maliki and just about all the other Iraqi leaders who became prominent after the US invasion had, as it turned out, much deeper and longer relations with Iran than they did with the US. Iran is right next door to the most heavily populated parts of Iraq. Once the Saddam regime was toppled there was almost nothing anyone could do– even the full weight of the US army!– to prevent a large-scale seepage of Iranian power into the Iraqi system.
Thus, Maliki had Iranian bodyguards, traveled on Iranian planes, and kept in constant touch with security and political figures from the Iranian regime– even at a time when he was having weekly videoconferences with Pres. George W. Bush. (This period deserves its own Shakespeare to capture its drama and ironies. I mean, just how extremely stupid and unaware was George W. Bush all that time??) Sure, the US military from time to time did a bit of shadow-boxing with the Iranians. They locked up a few Revolutionary Guards emissaries here, held a conference to accuse the Iranians of some piece of wrongdoing there, or whatever. But they were never able to put any serious dents at all in the slow. steady expansion of Iranian power within not just the country of Iraq, but also within its new ruling regime.
Does Fayyad have any “third-party” force he can appeal to, that can help him balance out and eventually counter the pressures his regime and his people are continuously coming under, from the Israeli occupiers? No, I think not. The only candidate for that role would be the US, which has been playing a kind of stealth-infiltration role inside the West Bank under the noses of the Israelis… And it could potentially act as a kind of counter to Israel’s diktats there??
Except that, if the recent past is any guide to the future, that won’t happen. Fayyad, for example, has been quite clear in saying that if his project is ever to succeed, the Israelis have to stop building all those additional, Jews-only settlements that are continuing to eat away at the territorial base and viability of any future Palestinian “state”. And the US has said, on many occasions that it agrees with this demand. But the Israeli government has simply and quite intentionally thumbed its nose at this request…
And the consequences for Israel for Washington have been– ?
Zero, nothing, nada.
So no, the US certainly doesn’t look like the kind of quietly efficient and determined “third power” in the West Bank that, when push comes to shove for Fayyad, will help him to stand up to Israel’s occupation force.
That is a function, of course, of the fact that the US relationship with Israel is very different from the relationship Iran has with the US. To say the least.
So no “Maliki difference” for Fayyad in that respect, either.
4. Another dimension of the “Maliki difference” is, I think, the fact that imperfect though the electoral system was in Iraq in 2005, still he does have not just the “legitimacy”– domestically and internationally– that attaches to the fact that he emerged from a generally fair election process but also, more concretely, the backing of a surprisingly robust parliamentary system for his national-independence project in Iraq.
Fayyad has none of these advantages, given the way he came to power in 2007.
It’s true that he is running very hard right now, in the lead-up to the next Palestinian election, still planned for January 2010. (The Avishai article is yet another manifestation of that.) It’s unclear, as of now, what party vehicle Fayyad might seek to use in the upcoming elections. His own “Third Way” party is just about moribund. He’s been running against both Fateh and Hamas. My analysis is that he’s a person with a deep distrust of party politics– and of the communalism and internal discipline that come with party life; and that he might try simply to cobble together a coalition of like-minded entrepreneurs, business people, and patronage recipients to run with, rather than any real party…. Which would most likely spell disaster for the prospects of real democracy and accountability inside Palestine, if such a coalition should end up winning.
But the bottom line on #4 here is that Fayyad has neither the kudos nor the experience of nationalist parliamentary politics to build on, in the way Maliki did (and still does.)
…. Final bottom line: for all his good intentions, Fayyad look far more likely to end up like Vidkun Quisling or Marshal Petain than he does like Nuri al-Maliki.
And just one final note about Avishai’s little puff-piece. You can read an introductory chunk of it here. The rest is behind the Harper’s pay-wall.
Aviashai, like many other members of the Israeli business elite, is generally sympathetic to Fayyad and to the huge problems the Palestinians– even western-educated technocrats like Salam Fayyad!– face under Israeli occupation. But Avishai (a) has an unshakeably pro-business outlook, that pays no heed at all to the concerns of any Palestinians other than the Western-educated entrepreneurs who hang around the hotels and coffee-shops of Ramallah, and (b) never seems to have gone outside the “Ramullah bubble” to see any of the rest of the West Bank for himself. Far less Gaza! In fact, I don’t think he mentioned the words “Gaza” or “Gaza war” once in his piece. It’s as if he is just willing his readers to forget about all that unfortunate “nastiness” of last winter and concentrate instead on the problems some Palestinian factory owner in Ramallastan has importing widgets for his factory.
Which I guess more or less fits in with Salam Fayyad’s agenda– or at least, Fayyad’s agenda when he’s doing his outreach to his backers and paymasters in the west.