Julie Webb-Pullman reports

Palestinian National Unity Government Announced: The Power of One

by Julie Webb-Pullman

A national unity government. Elections. A new-look PLO. Community reconciliation. Big hopes, even bigger expectations as representatives of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Hamas came to an agreement in Gaza today to form a national unity government and hold elections.

Much had been made of the so-called Palestinian political division, but how accurately does it describe the situation on the ground?

According to Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum, the division was not caused by Fatah and Hamas.

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum in Gaza today

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum in Gaza today

“After the 2006 elections everyone accepted the result – Fatah, Hamas and the Palestinian people, and the Palestinian Legislative Council passed to Hamas control. But after three months, the international community interfered to destroy Palestinian democracy because they didn’t like the result. The United States, the European Union and the Israeli Occupation directly interfered, imposing the Quartet’s conditions. From 2007 until now, ALL Palestinians have been subjected to collective punishment, not just Fatah and Hamas,” he said today.

The Quartet conditions were designed to isolate Hamas politically, financially, security-wise, and socially, and focused first on Gaza because both the Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and the Interior Minister were from Gaza. The result was the ongoing siege of Gaza.

“Fatah and Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] agreed to stand behind the Quartet conditions and isolate Hamas because they needed money, weapons and international support,” said Barhoum, considering this to be a mistake which was then exacerbated by Mubarak’s Egypt supporting the Quartet and Fatah, followed by the international community’s support for Fatah and Abu Mazen against any sort of resistance that might support Hamas.

“Now, Fatah and Abu Mazen find themselves in the same position as Hamas – threatened with isolation and financial penalties because they refuse to acknowledge a Jewish state and sign a peace agreement that does not recognise Palestinian interests – so they have come to Hamas to strengthen the front against the US and Israel.”

Despite this apparent duplicity, Hamas still welcomes them, and this sentiment is shared by the other factions.

As ex-prisoner, rebel, and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) spokesperson Dr Marion Abu Daqqa said, “Our national interests are in danger. We are all under the occupation, even in Gaza. With unity, we can defeat all the conspiracies. The Occupation is still feeding it [the division]. Either we unite, or all of us should go away because the only winner of that is Israel. The Occupation is targeting every Palestinian – women, old men, children. They are invading our land, detaining our people, attacking and wounding them. We can’t resolve this unless we come to an agreement, unite.”

Dr Mariam Abu Daqqa, PFLP spokeswoman

Dr Mariam Abu Daqqa, PFLP spokeswoman

Yahia Rabah, Fatah spokesperson, considers that it is imperative that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are included in any national unity government, not only because of the need for all to work within a common framework, but also because of escalating Israeli attacks.

“We have to defend our national interests. Even those who are outside of the PLO, such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, must have the chance to be part of this,” he said.

Reconciliation will benefit Hamas as well as the Palestinian imperatives, in his opinion.

“Within the next couple of days the Palestinian Central Council will take place, which is the mediator between the Executive Committee of the PLO and the National Council. During the meeting, decisions will be taken regarding this political period, and it is preferable that Hamas be in the frame, in the decision-making process,” said Rabah.

Last night’s discussions in Gaza centred on forming a new national government, while today the focus was on the timing and procedures for elections, and how to actually make a political programme of negotiation and social reconciliation that will include all factions and independents. Of necessity, the discussions were general, rather than specific.

“Until now Abu Mazen is the proposed Prime Minister to guide the first session of the unity government, but he will then hand over to the new PM,” Fawzi Barhoum explained.

“After these talks, each faction will discuss amongst themselves who they want, then there will be a new round of talks to decide on the number of ministers and who they will be.”

Given the alarming increase in recent weeks of Israeli attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank, and assaults on Al Aqsa mosque and those praying there, it seems the prospect of calm, free and fair elections, slated to be held within six months, will be a big challenge.

“After seven years of enforced division, we are determined to regain the Palestinian democratic process,” said Barhoum. “Gaza is under siege, the West Bank is under occupation, the Israeli Occupation will prevent any election in Jerusalem, the election process will face huge obstacles in the West Bank.”

The Hamas spokesperson pointed out that in Cairo they agreed that because of the complexity of the situation it may be possible to progress elections in only some territories, such as in Gaza and some parts of the West Bank, noting that they will have to be creative to negotiate how to be able to select representatives in the territories where Israel makes it impossible to conduct elections.

“We must also work out how to involve all Palestinians in the process, those in the diaspora – in Syria and Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, the US and Europe and other places,” he commented.

“There is enormous flexibility on the part of Hamas concerning the formation of the national unity government,” he said, “but none regarding the Palestinians constants. We are more concerned with representation on the PLO than with government,” noting that Hamas in fact nominated and supported two Christian candidates in the 2006 elections who went on to be elected, as well as the successful woman Christian candidate for the Ramallah mayoralty in 2005.

He stressed the need for international support of the reconciliation government, especially from other Arab and Islamic countries.

“First, we must form a national government,” said Barhoum, “then we must receive international support. If Arab and Islamic countries fail to provide Palestine with this support then we will be isolated again. We are all looking for Arab support for reconciliation, and financially. It is a new challenge and one we must face together.”

With the factions agreed on the formation of a national unity government within five weeks, and elections within six months, the question now is what Israel will do to prevent it.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on hearing of the agreement that President Abbas must choose between peace with Israel or peace with Hamas, in a thinly-veiled threat to wage war to prevent reconciliation or elections from taking place. Shortly afterwards, an Israeli rocket targetted a motorbike in Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip, injuring 12 people.

“They will try to prevent it by any means, including assassination,” Barhoum commented. “But they will not succeed. Before, Gaza faced the siege alone, the West Bank faced occupation and Israeli settlements alone. Now, we will face all of these things together.”

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