A Glimmer of Hope

By Saleh Al-Naami

After many meetings, consultations and deliberations the Egyptian government has succeeded in formulating a draft agreement for Palestinian national reconciliation which both Fatah and Hamas have approved in principle. The Palestinian National Project, as it is called, was submitted to representatives of the Palestinian factions on Sunday.

The proposed project calls for the creation of a national reconciliation government "with specified tasks". These include lifting the blockade, managing daily affairs, preparing for new legislative and presidential elections, and overseeing the creation of non- partisan, professionally-based national security services. The document specifies that presidential and legislative elections should be held simultaneously at a date agreed between the factions and in accordance with a revised electoral law and encourages moves, first mooted in the 2005 Cairo Agreement, to expand the Palestine Liberation Organisation to include all Palestinian forces and factions. Towards this end the draft agreement urges new PLO national council elections inside the Palestinian territories and abroad.

Under the terms of the document all factions agree to maintain calm with Israel within the framework of a reconciliation agreement between them and to promote a domestic climate that permits the implementation of the agreed points in the national dialogue. The document also stipulates the creation of specialised committees on all pending issues — the creation of the national reconciliation government, the overhaul of the security services, reactivating the PLO and elections and the electoral law. It places the conduct of all political negotiations under the authority of the PLO and the Palestinian Authority president, and envisages that any settlement agreement be presented to the PLO national council for ratification and, if feasible, to the Palestinian people in a referendum. Finally, it states that the Palestinian national dialogue must adhere to principles laid out in earlier documents, including the Cairo and Mecca agreements (2007).

Fatah welcomed the draft project as an important step towards ending current divisions. In a statement to Al-Ahram Weekly, Abdallah Abdallah, chairman of the political committee in the National Assembly, said Fatah "strongly values Egyptian efforts to end Palestinian divisions". Yet he insisted that Mahmoud Abbas’s presidential term must remain outside of the bounds of the national dialogue.

A Hamas leader told the Weekly that while the movement agreed in principle to the document several points needed to be modified and others clarified. He stressed that Hamas "was not alone" in believing this. Although he refused to clarify the points in question he said that the Hamas delegation that is currently in Damascus will probably discuss these points with Egyptian officials.

Leftist Palestinian forces say that while the Egyptian proposal is on the whole balanced they have some reservations. Saleh Zeidan, of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), believes the Mecca Agreement should have been excluded from the frames of reference since it is a bilateral agreement between Fatah and Hamas. He also criticised the document for failing to mention the need to adopt proportional representation in Palestinian elections which would ensure the participation of all factions and end the current monopoly over decision- making.

The current system, argues Zeidan, favours one, or at best, two factions. He also believes the document should have listed the National Reconciliation Project as the frame of reference for reactivating the PLO. Lastly, on the matter of the proposed national reconciliation government, Zeidan stresses that if its aim is to lift the blockade and arrange for new elections it should be made up of independent figures.

Palestinian political analyst Nihad Al-Sheikh Khalil believes that most of the points in the draft agreement are "ticking bombs" that could easily explode and derail efforts at dialogue. He points out that the Egyptian proposal "makes no reference to the political agenda of the new government or the method of electing the new prime minister".

Hamas insists that the agenda of the forthcoming government should rest on the Mecca agreement whereas Abbas wants to base it on the PLO programme. On the question of restructuring the security agencies, Khalil warns that "the wording is so loose it will jeopardise future talks on the issue". While Hamas believes that the restructuring should apply to the security agencies in both the West Bank and Gaza, Fatah insists that process should be restricted to Hamas controlled Gaza.

There is a profound structural gap between Fatah and Hamas on the question of security services, says Khalil. Whereas Abbas holds that security coordination with the Israeli army is an integral part of the obligations of the PA, Hamas maintains that such coordination is "tantamount to treason". During their recent meetings with Egyptian officials, Khalil claims, Hamas delegates insisted upon the dismissal of a number of security officials in the West Bank, including head of Preventive Security Ziad Hab Al-Rih, chief of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service Tawfiq Al-Tirawi — already sacked by Abbas Tuesday — National Security Commander Diab Al-Ali and Director of Military Intelligence Majid Faraj. Hamas holds these individuals responsible for the detention of its leaders in the West Bank.

Khalil also thinks Hamas will refuse to accept simultaneous presidential and legislative elections since to do so would be to tacitly approve the extension of Abbas’s term of office. But the greatest difficulty, he argues, surrounds the paragraph regarding the future of the PLO. The Egyptian proposal calls for the "developing and stimulating the PLO in accordance with the Cairo Agreement of March 2005". The formula, he says, could be construed as a way to maintain the current status quo in the PLO though all Palestinian factions, apart from Fatah, demand the organisation be restructured in a manner that reflects the balance of Palestinian political forces. The draft agreement also fails to provide a timeframe for the Palestinian dialogue, meaning talks could continue indefinitely.

The Palestinian dialogue is due to resume on 9 November. The general atmosphere remains grim and without active and neutral Arab intervention the sessions that are intended to bring the Palestinian factions closer together may actually drive them further apart.

(Originally published in Al Ahram Weekly – www.weekly.ahram.org.eg – Issue No. 919)

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