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Friday, January 12, 2007

Turmoil continues [Among Palestinian Factions]

Turmoil continues

Senior Fatah leader Nabil Amr tells Erica Silverman that Hamas must moderate its position or nothing

Palestinian politics is deadlocked at a dangerous crossroads with Fatah and Hamas entangled in factional violence that has claimed the lives of more than 40 Palestinians in the last month, perceived by many as a foreshadowing of civil war.

Nabil Amr, media and communications advisor to President Mahmoud Abbas and member of the Central Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Fatah's Revolutionary Council, explains to Al-Ahram Weekly Fatah's position as the two rival movements enter the "last" round of negotiations to form a national unity government.

President Abbas has promised to call for new presidential and parliamentary elections if talks fail, although Palestinians fear new elections would lead to further bloodshed.

Hamas swept legislative elections almost one year ago. Unwilling to accept negotiating conditions stipulated by the Quartet (the EU, US, UN and Russia), the Palestinian government barely survived 10 months of crippling economic and political sanctions led by the United States.

Is Fatah ready to continue negotiations with Hamas to form a national unity government, and if so what is Fatah's strategy for reaching an agreement?

During six months of negotiations with Hamas we have realised that Hamas will not accept the political platform of President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas will not accept a unity government without members of the Hamas leadership participating [in the government].

We are looking for a way out, to hold early elections. President Abbas took the political decision to discuss the next step with Hamas.

When Secretary General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference came to the region to meet President Abbas he mediated between Fatah and Hamas, and gave three conditions that would market the government to the Quartet, the Americans and the Israelis.

President Abbas is waiting for a response from Hamas through Ihsanoglu, and Mustafa Bargouhti can continue as a mediator and the Jordanians will now try to find a solution and to start negotiations in Amman. Hamas will not accept the conditions, so we will not form a unity government.

What are those conditions Hamas must accept?

Hamas must accept President Abbas's platform and political programme as the elected Palestinian president. If President Abbas will meet the Israelis, maybe the prime minister will refuse the meeting. The president cannot implement his platform without harmony in the government.

Are the main sticking points in negotiations still control of the finance and interior ministries?


President Abbas recently met US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Would the international community accept a national unity government in which ministries are controlled by Hamas?

We must ask the parties, the Quartet. The negotiations would be with them, not with Hamas or President Abbas, because they can lift or continue the siege. If the Quartet accepts any formula, President Abbas will accept -- if not there is no need for another government.

We tried this with Hamas before. They gave some names for ministerial positions and we contacted the Quartet. Hamas must accept independents to control these ministries. Fatah and Hamas can avoid conflict and independents will provide international acceptance.

Why not form all the government from this large sector of independents? According to Palestinian Basic Law, the government is set up to help the president with internal issues, because political issues are the reserve of the PLO.

Hamas will control this government through their majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council, and it will be just for one year to end the siege and to change the atmosphere around Hamas, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and President Abbas. We need this quietening to start again on the political track.

What does the US require from a Palestinian government to lift the sanctions?

Hamas has to accept President Abbas's political platform, international legitimacy, and the "Arab Initiative". In this case the world will accept and will deal with this new Hamas. They will not lift the siege immediately. They will put them under examination to learn how they can get concessions from Hamas.

Could already conflicting security forces become unwieldy under the control of an independent interior minister?

Yes, but according to Basic Law, the majority of security forces is controlled by the president. What is [Interior Minister] Said Syiam doing now? He is not responsible for security.

Abbas's office controls the Presidential Guard, National Intelligence and National Security. What about the police, Preventive Security Services, and the Executive Forces that are still controlled by the Interior Ministry?

There is a mix between the president and the interior minister. The majority of officers and the soldiers follow Fatah. The minister will face many obstacles to lead these forces. An independent general leading these forces could be a solution.

During all the confrontations in Gaza, the minister and the Executive Forces were involved. They are not neutral; they are a militia of Hamas.

What is Fatah's strategy to maintain the ceasefire with Hamas?

There is no strategy. In Gaza you can find all the parties in one building, so we cannot talk about a strategy to face Hamas militarily in Gaza or anywhere. We can force them to go to elections, and in this case Fatah will try to reform and to restore the PA. I think we can defend ourselves, not more.

Could a civil war erupt between Fatah and Hamas?

We will not go to civil war. Maybe some clashes from time to time, and we can contain that.

Was Hamas's success in recent internal clashes with Fatah a blow to Abbas's call for new elections?

Who knows what will happen after two weeks, but if we look at today's polls President Abbas is still the number one choice in the coming presidential election. Much will depend how Fatah conducts itself. If elections are held in six months I am sure we will win.

Hamas has no policy, only to continue in the PA. They made dangerous concessions to attain power and continue in government.

If you read the document of Ahmed Youssef, Hamas discussed Israeli and American conditions for a state. Fatah refused this political step, and we declared this to Condoleezza Rice and to President Bush. We want a state according to the "roadmap" plan, and with international legitimacy. We will not accept the American or Israeli proposal to form a transitional state in small areas. I think Hamas accepted that.

If fresh elections are held, how will Fatah recapture the hearts of Palestinian voters?

We will create a list combining the forces of the PLO, independents, and civil society groups. We lost the elections due to chaos inside Fatah. We are now in the process of making real reforms.

There are only a few independents in the PLC. They must cooperate with Fatah because it is a national and pragmatic movement and not religious. They must not remind Fatah there is corruption.

The world, the Quartet and the Arab nation awaits a step from the Palestinians to lift the siege and to open the political track.

Has the ideology of Fatah and Hamas moved closer in some ways over the past nine months, since Hamas is adhering to the ceasefire with Israel, accepted previously signed agreements, and will let the PLO negotiate an agreement for peace?

No. We in Fatah are still searching for a practical solution and we have the experience to do that with the Israelis and the Americans. You cannot find harmony between political Islam and nationalist movements in any place. Political Islam wants to control the government alone; they will not accept other parties. Hamas cannot make peace with Israel because they want all of Palestine.

Prime Minister Haniyeh declared that Hamas would accept a Palestinian state along 1967 borders and not more.

They will link this with a "hudna" (truce), not a solution.

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