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Friday, February 9, 2007

Palestinian Unity: Mixed Reviews and trouble ahead for Israel

The Palestinian unity agreement, and the government that will be formed based on that agreement, clearly do not meet international criteria for ending the boycott of the Hamas government. The agreement does not renounce violence - it is unlikely that it will do so, and it does not provide for disarming of the terror groups. The most we can say, is that it does not reassert the "right to resistance" that is claimed in the Palestinian Prisoners' Document. It doesn't recognize the right of Israel to exist. There is a vague reference to "respecting past agreements."
The agreement does serve many purposes of the Palestinians, and creates a problem for Israel and for the Middle East Quartet.
It will hopefully put an end to bloody anarchy and internecine squabbling in the Palestinian Authority. It allows the Saudis to say that the Palestinians agree to the Arab Peace Initiative, and thereby legitimizes Saudi support of  the Palestinian Authority, and it creates a basis for claiming that the Western boycott is unfair. If the agreement succeeds in bringing unity, it is a big victory for Saudi Arabia, and may make the Saudis the prime godfathers of the Palestinian Authority. That would certainly be a positive step, as it would wean the Palestinian Authority from Iranian influence.
However, it is almost certain that various Fatah groups as well as Hamas and Islamic Jihad will still have their own arms, and the Hamas Charter will still call for eradication of Israel. The renewed eruption of internecine fighting, as well as renewal of extensive terror attacks, is therefore not precluded, and it is unlikely that Hamas will agree to any peace deal with Israel.  
As long as each group has its own armed capability, there is no way for the Palestinian authority to live up to any agreement they make to stop terror.
Though the US and Great Britain expressed reservations about the agreement, French Foreign Minister Douste-Blazy was more positive, as might be anticipated. He stated:
I salute the inter-Palestinian agreement reached yesterday in Mecca on the creation of a national unity government...

"The inclusion in this government's programme of respecting international resolutions and agreements signed by the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) constitutes a step in the right direction towards full adherence to the international community's demands."
That is a fairly cautious statement for Douste-Blazy, who is famous for having remarked that Iran is a force for stability in the Middle East.
The problem arises because from the beginning, Israel and the Quartet had incorrect criteria for the new government. It doesn't matter what they say, it matters what they do. Even if Hamas agrees to "commit" to past agreements, it is not necessarily meaningful. PLO signed the same agreements and is "commited" to them, but doesn't fullfil its obligations under those agreements. Despite repeated pledges of Fatah leaders to end violence, the Fatah Al-Aqsa brigade sent people to blow themselves up in Israel. Despite repeated agreements to unify security commands, they were never unified - not under Arafat, not under Abbas, and certainly not under the Hamas government. Despite repeated pledges to recognize the existence of Israel, PLO and Mr. Abbas still insist on full right of return for Palestinian refugees, which would mean the end of Israel as a Jewish state.
Support for the Palestinian Authority should be based on its actions, and not on words. 
Ami Isseroff  

Text of Mecca Accord for Palestinian coalition government
By The Associated Press

MECCA - Under the Palestinians' Mecca Accord, the mainstream Fatah movement and the militant group Hamas agreed on forming a new coalition government that will respect previous peace deals with Israel.
The accord came in the form of a letter from Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, designating Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas to form the government.
The following is a text of Abbas' message to Haniyeh:
In my capacity as the head of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the president of the Palestinian Authority...
a) I designate you to form the upcoming Palestinian government within the time specified under the basic law (five weeks).
b) After forming the government and presenting it to us, it should be presented to the Palestinian Legislative Council for a vote of confidence.
c) I call upon you as the head of the upcoming Palestinian government to commit to the higher interests of the Palestinian people, to preserve its rights and to preserve its achievements and to develop them, and to work in order to achieve its national goals as was approved by the Palestine National Council, the clauses of the Basic Law and the National Reconciliation Document...
Based on this, I call upon you to respect international resolutions and the agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (referring to peace accords with Israel).

Under the agreement, Hamas will hold nine ministries in the Cabinet, including the prime minister's post. Fatah will hold six, and other factions will hold four.
Fatah will name independents as foreign minister and two state ministers without portfolio. Hamas will name independents as interior minister, planning minister and a state minister without portfolio.

State Dept.: New PA gov't must meet int'l demands
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent, Haaretz Service and Agencies

If the Palestinian Authority wants to have a "broader relationship" with the international community, it must recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements, U.S. State Department spokesman Tom Casey said in response to a deal on a Palestinian unity government reached Thursday night.
The deal between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, which was reached after two days of intensive negotiations in the Saudi city of Mecca, sets out the principles of the unity government, including an ambiguous promise that it will "respect" previous peace deals with Israel, delegates said. The Mecca accord does not address the other two international requirements.
"The international community has made it clear that in order to be able to have a broader relationship with the Palestinian Authority government, that those principles are going to have to be met," The New York Times quoted Casey as saying. He added that officials were still studying the accord.
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni called on the international community Thursday to ensure that Israel's right to exist is respected by any Palestinian government that emerges from the talks.
Speaking in Madrid, Livni said the three requirements were not negotiable and applied to any future Palestinian governments.
"We expect the international community to stick to its own requirements that were stated after the elections which Hamas won," she said.
An agreement to abide by the three international demands would mean the lifting of the painful financial boycott of the Palestinian government, imposed after Hamas' election victory in January 2006.
Meshal asks world to recognize new gov't

The Qatari satellite channel Al-Jazeera quoted Abbas as saying at the ceremony that he has asked Palestinian Authority President Haniyeh to form the new government, and to respect all past peace agreements. The latter request had been a key sticking point in negotiations between the two sides.
Al-Jazeera aired images from the signing ceremony, attended by Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal.
Meshal, also speaking at the ceremony, vowed that Hamas would not break the agreement, and that all factions would respect the deal. He asked the international community to recognize the new government.
Meshal pledged that the accord would put an end to violence after a series of truces between Fatah and Hamas gunmen that collapsed.
"I tell those who fear that the fate of this agreement will be the same fate of the old ones," he said. "We have pledged our allegiance to God from this sacred place... and we will go back to our country fully committed to it.
"I say to our young people that this is an agreement of the leadership of the biggest groups and none of you should accept any order from others to fire," he added.
In Gaza City, celebratory gunfire erupted for nearly an hour after the accord was announced. Residents expressed hope that the deal will mean a lifting of a crippling international financial boycott, imposed on the government Hamas formed after winning January 2006 elections.
"We've been holding our breath. God willing, this is a permanent agreement, not a temporary truce. We hope this will lead to lifting the siege," said Mahmoud Qassam, a fish seller watching the ceremony at his home in Gaza City's Shaati refugee camp, meters from Haniyeh's home.
Announcing the agreement at the ceremony, Abbas aide Nabil Amr read a letter in which Abbas designated Haniyeh to draw up the new government within five weeks, according to the formula agreed on in the talks.
The letter of designation also said the new Haniyeh-led government would respect past peace deals signed with Israel by the Fatah-dominated PLO.
Abbas said the deal would "satisfy our people... and bring us to the shores of peace... This initiative has been crowned with success."
Meshal said the accord will "unify our ranks. There is a commitment and unity. We will perseve this partnership."
It said it would also follow a document drawn up last summer by Hamas and Fatah activists jailed in Israel. That document calls for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
Fatah official Maher Mekdad said Thursday that the two sides had reached an agreement on the division of ministries in a new cabinet.
The important post of interior minister, who controls most security services, will be an independent candidate proposed by Hamas and approved by Abbas, Mekdad said.
The second day of the marathon summit was spent working on the second part of the agreement: to what degree a new government will recognize previous peace deals with Israel.
The delegations held talks until 3 A.M. Wednesday, then resumed midmorning Thursday in a palace overlooking the Kaaba, Islam's holiest site - a venue pointedly chosen by their Saudi hosts to pressure them to compromise.
Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad said in Thursday afternoon that a complete deal could be reached as early as Thursday or Friday.
"We have achieved progress in some points, and there are no points that can hinder reaching an agreement, he told a press conference. We have a clear decision not to let the Mecca dialogue fail. We have no option: either to succeed or to succeed," he said.
"We want to create a unity government and that is everyone's demand. We want a government that can end the blockade," Abbas said Wednesday in live television footage of the meeting overlooking the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Islam's holiest site.
"Recent days have been very black and may God not allow them to return. It has been a catastrophe that must not be repeated. We don't want blood spilt," he said.
"We will not leave this place without agreement, God willing," Meshal said Wednesday, speaking after Abbas. "If it finds us unified, the international community will have to respect our wishes and lift the unjust blockade."
British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett warned Wednesday, however, that even if Hamas and Fatah form a coalition, London will shun the resulting government as long as Hamas defies international demands to recognize Israel and foreswear violence.

France urges world to back Palestinian accord
09 Feb 2007 10:35:35 GMT
Source: Reuters

(Updates with French call for international support)

By Paul Taylor

BRUSSELS, Feb 9 (Reuters) - France urged the international community on Friday to back a new national unity government formed by rival Palestinian factions while the European Union's foreign policy chief was cautiously positive.

EU diplomats said it was too early to expect any decision on lifting a freeze on direct aid to the Palestinian government when the 27-nation bloc's foreign ministers meet on Monday but they were likely to issue a positive statement on the agreement.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said he supported the deal between the moderate Fatah party and the militant Islamist Hamas movement signed in Mecca on Thursday, and called for international backing.

"I salute the inter-Palestinian agreement reached yesterday in Mecca on the creation of a national unity government," Douste-Blazy said in a statement.

"The inclusion in this government's programme of respecting international resolutions and agreements signed by the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) constitutes a step in the right direction towards full adherence to the international community's demands," he said.

The United States and the European Union suspended aid to and contact with the Palestinian government last year after Hamas took office rejecting international demands to recognise Israel, renounce violence or accept past peace agreements.

In Brussels, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the bloc would study the unity government agreement carefully and foreign ministers would discuss it at their regular monthly meeting next Monday.

"We are going to look at all the details with the best will, in a positive but cautious manner," Cristina Gallach said.


In an initial reaction late on Thursday, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett welcomed efforts to end violence and promote intra-Palestinian reconciliation, and called the unity government agreement "an interesting and important development".

But she too said details would have to be studied carefully.

Gallach said the Quartet of international peace mediators -- the United States, the EU, Russia and the United Nations -- were consulting by telephone to consider whether the unity accord reflected their three conditions.

"A window of opportunity is ajar again," an EU diplomat said. "One can say confidently that it's better that they have made an agreement rather than shooting at each other. But perhaps that's all you can say."

Gallach said the EU welcomed very much the efforts of Saudi Arabia to broker the agreement and said the EU had been calling since last year for a national unity government that respected the basic conditions of the international community.

Solana is due to meet Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni this weekend in Munich at a security conference.

The next ministerial-level meeting of the Middle East Quartet is likely to take place after U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice holds talks with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Feb. 19. (Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Paris and Sophie Walker in London)

ANALYSIS: Unity deal is minimum required to remove the siege

By Zvi Bar'el, Haaretz Correspondent

For a while it seemed that Khaled Meshal, not Mahmoud Abbas, was the Palestinian Authority chairman.

In his speech in Mecca on Thursday, Meshal stressed the commitment to stop the bloodshed among the Palestinian factions and the cooperation with Abbas. He did not say a word on the political issues the two had agreed upon.

In a letter on appointing the government, Abbas called on Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh to honor (not to commit to) the signed agreements (without saying with whom), and to honor the international decisions and the Arab League's resolutions.

There is no commitment in the letter to keep past agreements and no direct recognition of Israel. But its wording is sufficient, at least for Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, to lift the siege from the Palestinian Authority. Because it holds the essential turning point in Hamas' position: the acceptance in theory of the agreements and resolutions, including the Oslo Accords and the Arab League resolutions, such as those adopted by the Arab summit conference in Beirut in 2002, dealing with terms of normalization with Israel.

On the other hand, Hamas' insistence on the term "to honor" instead of "to commit to" turns the theoretical recognition into something impractical and appears to limit Abbas' ability to negotiate with Israel. For a government that cannot commit to uphold past agreements will not want to take part in drafting future ones.

Abbas will be appointing a cabinet which is not committed to the resolutions from which he derives his power and authority.

All the parties, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, seem to understand that in view of the political situation in Israel and Washington's lack of interest in advancing the political process, it is better to make do with managing the internal Palestinian crisis.

Another question is whether the national unity government would be able to function. The portfolio allocation was agreed on before the Mecca gathering, following the monetary temptation the king had offered the Palestinians if they set up a unity government.

Arab sources say the new government will get half a billion dollars now for "routine maintenance" and additional large sums for rehabilitation and development later.

It is not clear, however, whether it will be possible to merge the armed Hamas and Fatah forces into one.

Various clauses of the agreement, such as Mohammed Dahlan's authorities as deputy prime minister, have yet to be agreed upon, but Saudi Arabia still has good cause for satisfaction. The agreement will not only enable it to lift the economic siege and funnel money to the PA, but also - and primarily - to block Iranian involvement in the Palestinian problem and keep it in Arab hands.

ANALYSIS: New PA government creates a real problem for Israel
By Avi Issacharoff, Haaretz Correspondent
The new Palestinian unity government creates a real problem for Israel. It will be headed by a senior Hamas figure, Ismail Haniyeh. Moreover, it will not recognize Israel and does not pretend to meet the Quartet's conditions, as one Hamas leader said.
Yet the same time, it is not a Hamas government, and Hamas will not have a majority in the cabinet. The finance minister-designate, Salem Fayad, is the White House's darling. The foreign minister-designate, academic Ziad Abu Amar, has lectured at many American universities and does not have extremist positions on Israel. And the interior minister, who commands the security forces, will be an independent rather than a Hamas member, though he will be appointed on Hamas' recommendation.
Under these circumstances, Israel and the U.S. will have trouble demanding that the international economic boycott of the Palestinian government remain in place.
The other members of the Quartet - the European Union, the United Nations and Russia - have been annoyed for some time by Washington's opposition to a unity government, and once one is in place, in another few weeks, some or all of these parties are liable to announce the resumption of relations with the Palestinian Authority.
Although Hamas leader Khaled Meshal and Fatah's leader, PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, accepted the principles of the Mecca agreement about 10 days ago, only this week did their last doubts vanish, when they realized that the Mecca summit was their last chance to end the internecine warfare in Gaza. Almost 100 Palestinians have been killed in this fighting over the last two months, and the combination of the violence and their sense of losing control led Abbas to brave American displeasure and Meshal to abandon his dream of exclusive Hamas control.
The agreement gave something to each of them: Meshal did not have to abandon Hamas' political platform and recognize Israel, while Abbas got a cabinet Hamas does not control. But many Palestinians are angry at both men.
No one reading the agreement could fail to wonder why it was delayed for many bloody weeks over a mere word or two: For instance, the final text states that the government will "respect" previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements; Abbas originally wanted "adhere to."
In Gaza, residents rejoiced that the civil war had ended. But the celebrations might be premature. With armed militias in Gaza, some lunatic could easily rekindle the fighting. And those who lost relatives will not so quickly abandon their desire for revenge.
Pacifying Gaza will be the new government's first task. But, at best, it will be difficult - and it may prove impossible.

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors. Originally posted at Please do link to these articles, quote from them and forward them by email to friends with this notice. Other uses require written permission of the author.


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