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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Palestinian national unity government - an analysis

" We want Palestine from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river, and if we do not succeed in liberating it now, or in the near future, with the help of Allah, it will be done… " (Al-'Alam TV, March 18). "
That may be the keynote of the new government as far as Israel is concerned.

Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center
at the Center for Special Studies (C.S.S) March 20, 2007

 Analysis of the Palestinian national unity government: its composition, platform and the implications of its establishment 
 1. In the late morning hours of March 17, 2007, the Palestinian Legislative Council held a vote of confidence for the new national unity government and ratified its establishment, with 83 representatives voting in favor and three against (two from the PFLP, which is not part of the government, and one independent). In the evening the government ministers were sworn in by Abu Mazen , the chairman on the Palestinian Authority, in at a festive ceremony held simultaneously in Gaza and Ramallah by conference call.

2. In his speech before the Palestinian Legislative Council Abu Mazen appealed to Israel to return to the negotiating table to achieve a "just peace." He said that the Palestinians extended their hand to peace and coexistence, and promised to act to bring about the release of Gilad Shalit, the abducted Israeli soldier. Ismail Haniya , prime minister of the national unity government, read out the new government's platform, which clearly reflects Hamas's ideology: no recognition of the right of the State of Israel to exist, stubborn adherence to "resistance" (i.e., violence and terrorism) as a "legitimate right" of the Palestinians, and a demand for the implementation of the "right to return" (i.e., the destruction of the State of Israel) . 

The composition of the government
3. There are 25 ministers in the new government (24 with ministries and one without portfolio). Twelve of them belong to or are affiliated with Hamas, six with Fatah, three are independent and four belong to leftist factions. Although most of the ministers are from or affiliated with Hamas, Fatah and the leftist factions have a strong bloc. With the exception of Ismail Haniya, the Hamas representatives are technocrats, some of them previously political unknowns, while Fatah ministers are old political hands, half of whom belong to the Palestinian Legislative Council. For an analysis of the composition of the new government, see Appendix I .

Ismail Haniya (sixth from left) and some of the new ministers (apparently photographed in the Gaza Strip) (Palestine-info Website, March 18)
 4. Prominent among the new government ministers are three independents who hold key portfolios, and who have replaced Hamas ministers. Two of them (the foreign and finance ministers) were chosen, in our assessment, because, as opposed to their predecessors, they are acceptable to the international community. For full biographies, see Appendix I .
A. Foreign minister Dr. Ziyad Abu Amro is a native of Gaza , married to an American woman and has American citizenship. He holds a PhD in political science and international relations from Georgetown University and is an independent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. He is close to Abu Mazen and has served as Mazen's liaison with Hamas.
B. Finance minister Salam Fayyad is a native of Tulkarm. He is a financial expert and holds a PhD in economics from the University of Texas . He is acceptable to the United States and the international community and has a reputation for being reliable. In previous governments he managed to stabilize the PA's budget to a certain extent and to advance important reforms.
C. Interior minister Dr. Hani Talab al-Qawasmi , whose family comes from Hebron but who was born in Gaza . He served as director of administrative affairs in the previous interior ministry. He is a devout Muslim and has no experience in internal security.
The government's platform
5. A number of changes were made in the draft of the government's platform which was made public at the end of last week. The changes are semantic and intended to make the government's basic position seem less extreme. However, despite the rhetorical acrobatics, in the final analysis the platform does not meet the demands of the Israel and the Quartet , and they reflect the fact that Abu Mazen and Fatah have almost completely accepted Hamas's basic ideology and demands (For a full analysis of the platform, see Appendix II ).
6. Conspicuous are the following:
A. The continuation of violence and terrorism is legitimate : According to its platform, the new Palestinian government will adhere to the "legitimate right" of Palestinians to continue employing "all forms of resistance." That is, in its platform there is legitimization for the continuation of all forms of terrorism against Israel (including suicide bombing attack within Israel) until all the Palestinians' far-reaching demands have been met. That is in full accord with Hamas's basic preference for terrorism, although it does not reject a temporary lull in the fighting. Thus is can be expected that the Palestinian terrorist organizations, including the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is not represented in the Palestinian Legislative Council, will continue attacking Israel (including suicide bombing attacks) under the aegis of the national unity government . 1
B. The platform of the national unity government does not include recognition of the right of the State of Israel to exist, and no mention is made of the concept of two states for two peoples . 2 It does, however, go into minute detail as to the Palestinians' far-reaching demands on Israel and the international community: the release of prisoners, the dismantling of the security fence, the cessation of the earthworks in Jerusalem , the cessation of Israeli security force counterterrorist measures and Israel 's withdrawal from the "Palestinian lands" it conquered. The reworked version of the government's platform, as opposed to the original version, mentions the establishment of a Palestinian state on "the lands conquered in 1967" with Jerusalem as its capital, but it does not state that the establishment of such a state is the final Palestinian demand. A Palestinian or Muslim Arab reader will understand that the arrangement is only temporary, and not a permanent arrangement to end the conflict based on the concept of two states for two peoples.
C. The platform includes adherence to the "right to return" and calls for the implementation of UN General Assembly Resolution 194 (December 1948) regarding the right of the Palestinian refugees to return to their lands and property and to receive reparations. The wording reflects Hamas's position and interpretation of Resolution 194 as the physical return of the refugees to their lands, that is, the destruction of the State of Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people .
D. According to the platform, agreements previously signed by the PLO are to be "honored" but no commitment is made to implement them : The new government "honors" the "legitimate decision" and agreements signed by the PLO (in the spirit of the Mecca Accord). The term used is " honors " but strict avoidance of a " commitment " to implement them is maintained. In effect, the refusal to recognize the right of the State of Israel to exist (at the foundation of the previous agreements) and the justification for continuing terrorism (through which previous agreements were sabotaged) make the "honoring of agreements" a phrase devoid of meaning.

E. Limiting Abu Mazen's ability to ratify agreements he and the PLO reached with Israel : according to the platform of the new government, Abu Mazen and the PLO have the authority to conduct negotiations for the PA. At the same time, Hamas and its supporters can sabotage any agreement reached. The platform states that any agreement must either be ratified and signed by the "new Palestinian Legislative Council" (which has yet to formed 3) or put to a referendum of Palestinians living within the PA and abroad. (Hamas can make it extremely difficult to hold a referendum in the PA, and it can be assumed that the Palestinian refugees living in the Arab states will oppose any agreement that does not include the "right to return.")
F. The ratified platform has a section dealing with Jerusalem (apparently because of the developments following the emergency earthworks carried out at the Mugrabim ramp): The new government will confront Israeli policy in Jerusalem , including the issue of the holy places. It will allot funds, encourage the Palestinians living in Jerusalem to take "a firm stance," and enlist the Arab-Muslim world to support the residents of Jerusalem politically and through the media.
The response of the government of Israel
 On March 18 the government of Israel met to discuss the Palestinian national unity government and its platform. An examination of the platform showed that "it does not accept the principles of the international community," therefore " Israel will not be able to work with the government or any of its ministers." However, " Israel will continue to work with Mahmoud Abbas in order to advance issues of security and issues pertaining to improving the quality of life of the Palestinian population." The government also noted that " Israel expects the international community to maintain the policy it has taken over the past year of isolating the Palestinian government until it recognizes the three principles of the Quartet."

Summary and assessment

The Palestinian national unity government reflects, first and foremost, Hamas and Fatah's desire (and in fact the desire of the entire Palestinian population) to put an end to the violence and anarchy which increased during the past year and to establish a stable, functioning Palestinian government. To that end Hamas agreed to give up three key government ministries to independents, and to let Fatah have a series of ministries as well, although they are less important. In return Hamas received the stamp of approval from Abu Mazen and Fatah that it had sought since its victory in the January 2006 election. In addition, there is a possibility that the Palestinian government will break out of its isolation (without Hamas's giving up its control of the government and its extremist ideology).
In addition to achieving the main goals of internal quiet and an end to the violence and anarchy which plagued the PA for the past year, the Palestinians seek to market the new national unity government to the international community. They hope to have the economic and political embargo lifted, even though the government is influenced by Hamas and its ideology and even though it has not met the demands of the Quartet, central to which are recognition of the right of the State of Israel to exist and the abandoning of terrorism.
Their efforts to market the new government have taken various forms : Using convoluted rhetoric in setting out its basic principles, Hamas has tried to camouflage the new government's extremist nature and give the Western countries something to hold on to; they have appointed ministers who are not affiliated with Hamas and who are acceptable to the United States and Europe to important government posts; 4 they have warned that if the government did not receive international support the situation was liable to deteriorate and that the PA and the Palestinian economy would collapse; they have enlisted Abu Mazen (who continues to call for peace, coexistence and a renewal of negotiations) to seek international legitimization for the new government and its platform. Initial international reactions (especially from European countries such as Norway , France and Britain ) are likely to reinforce Palestinian expectations that it will be possible to sell the new national unity government, with its extremist principles, to the international community.

However, the basic differences of opinion between Fatah and Hamas have not been resolved, and anarchy still exits within the PA. As negotiations for the establishment of the national unity government were being held, there were violent confrontations between Fatah and Hamas (although not widespread) until the last minute (March 17), and signs of anarchy. 5Thus it can be seen that the basic tensions between Fatah and Hamas and the difficulties of instituting law and order in Palestinian society still exist . The power struggles between Fatah and Hamas have not been clearly won and it can be expected that the rival sides will continue to seek as great an advantage as possible over one another within the government despite the Mecca Accord and the establishment of the national unity government. A list of controversial issues still remains, such as the future of the Executive Force, control of the security forces and integrating Hamas into the PLO. They will continue as focal points of friction between the two sides and may lead to political tensions and even a renewal of the violence, which will make it difficult for the national unity government to function.
Note : Shortly the translation of the two appendices will be posted. Appendix I is a profile of the new Palestinian government; Appendix II is an analysis and translation of the national unity government platform.

1 The Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is not represented in the Palestinian Legislative Council and which did not participate in the elections, is not committed to supporting the new government and its platform. The PIJ and the other terrorist organizations can be expected to continue carrying out terrorist attacks, including rocket and suicide bombing attacks. PIJ spokesman Daoud Shehab said that his organization had many reservations regarding the new government's platform, but that the PIJ's position would be examined primarily according to the governmental support and reinforcement it gave the "resistance." It is understood that his organization clearly has no intention of stopping its terrorist attacks (Al-Aqsa TV, March 17). Since the establishment of the government there have already been a number of attacks initiated from the Gaza Strip, including rocket attacks and a Hamas sniper attack at the Dekalim terminal near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, in which an Israeli civilian was critically wounded.
2 Fathi Hamad, a Hamas member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, said the following in a program broadcast by Al-'Alam, the Iranian Arabic language channel: " We want Palestine from the [Mediterranean] sea to the [Jordan] river, and if we do not succeed in liberating it now, or in the near future, with the help of Allah, it will be done… " (Al-'Alam TV, March 18).
3 The "new Palestinian Legislative Council" does not yet exist, and it can only be formed after agreement has been reached regarding Hamas participation in the PLO and a change in the PLO's character. The issue of the establishment of a new PLO in which Hamas will participate has been in the works since the Cairo Agreement of March 2005, and it can be assumed that it will not happen in the near future (despite the fact that the platform of the new government calls for the implementation of the Cairo Agreement to be accelerated so that in the end, Hamas will be able to take over the PLO ).

4 A Palestinian "government source" told BBC radio in the Gaza Strip that the new government had decided to send its foreign and finance ministers to the United States to try to convince Washington to cooperate with t he national unity government (BBC radio, March 18).
5 On the eve of the new government's swearing in (March 15-16), there were manifestations of anarchy and clashes between Fatah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip: the convoy of the director of UNWRA in the Gaza Strip was shot at, the son of the director of the lands authority was abducted, unknown assailants killed a military intelligence officer and three Hamas operatives were abducted by Fatah. On the day the government was sworn in, March 17, there were new abductions and violent clashes between quarreling clans.

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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