Finally, the day we’ve been waiting for is here..well, sort of. Mahmoud Abbas told the world today that after month’s of fitful negotiations with his Hamas partner, Ismail Haniye, the two have hammered out an agreement (or they’ve come close to hammering out an agreement) on forming a national unity government:
The Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, said Monday that he had reached a tentative agreement with Hamas to form a national unity government in an attempt to end the Palestinians’ international isolation and the cutoff in Western assistance to their government.
In a speech on Palestinian television, Mr. Abbas said it would take several days to finish the deal, and provided no details of how his Fatah faction and the militant group Hamas, which leads the government, had resolved their considerable differences.
“We have finalized the elements of the political agenda of the national unity government,” Mr. Abbas said in his speech. “Hopefully, in the coming days we will begin forming the government of national unity.”
You’ll notice that qualifier “tentative agreement.” Doesn’t instill enormous confidence. “There’s many a slip between the cup and the lip.” And the two sides are apparently still haggling over who gets which ministerial portfolios. But hey, this is Mideast politics and we’ll take what we can get at this point and hope for mo’ better down the line.
Examining what the announcement means for prospects for peace is complex. There is hope that the agreement will bond Hamas to Fatah’s previously negotiated international agreements (like Oslo) and its political positions (recognizing Israel and ending violence). And there are signs that this may be the case:
[Palestinian] Officials said the new government would accept all previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, an implicit recognition of a two-state solution. It would call for the negotiation of an independent Palestine outside of Israel’s 1967 borders, including Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, on the basis of an Arab League initiative.
The document is expected to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization, which has signed all agreements with Israel, as the negotiating representative of the Palestinian people, and to acknowledge the right of Mr. Abbas to negotiate for the Palestinians.
Haaretz adds that Hamas has also agreed to abide by the 2002 Arab League proposal which proposes Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders in return for full recognition from all Arab countries:
The progress in talks between Hamas and Fatah came after Haniyeh agreed to indirect recognition of Israel by accepting a 2002 Arab peace initiative as part of the platform for a unity government with Fatah, Hamas representatives indicated Monday.
The head of the Hamas parliamentary faction, Salah El-Bardaweil, said that the group’s political stance is based on the “prisoners document,” as well as the 2002 Arab League peace initiative.
…Haniyeh’s acceptance of the Arab initiative as is would be a dramatic turning point and would signal the legitimization of negotiations with Israel and recognition of its existence within the 1967 borders.
Another unknown is how the international community will respond to this breakthrough. We have every indication that the EU will act favorably and reopen the aid spigot which the U.S. foolishly persuaded them to turn off when Hamas won the parliamentary elections. I have little hope that the U.S. will do the right thing or even recognize that resuming aid to the Palestinians even is the right thing. And when they do, it will undoubtedly be too little too late as it was when they finally decided to get behind a Lebanon ceasefire.
As for Israel, don’t ask. The response so far has been the same old wishy-washy temporizing that always characterizes their response to serious opportunities for peace with the Palestinians:
The Israeli foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, told Israel radio that if the new government did not meet international conditions, and if Mr. Abbas “decides not to take a step in this direction, but rather join something which actually means he is joining a Hamas-led government of terror, then I’m afraid we are going to have a problem.”
Haaretz’s articulation of her views is even more schizo:
In a press conference held following her meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos, Livni said that if Abbas “joins the terror government headed by Hamas, we will have a problem.”
Livni added that what mattered was whether the unity government met the West’s three conditions for restoring aid.
What Livni wants to see is a coalition government dominated by Fatah. That ain’t gonna happen. She wants to see Abbas take control of the government and I don’t see that happening either. She wants Hamas basically out of the picture or sidelined. That ain’t gonna happen too. The question will be how would Israel react if Hamas truly does accede to Fatah on these three main conditions. I have my doubts about Israel’s interest or ability to grasp the olive branch. But I’d like to be proven wrong.