Hamas: Deal or No Deal?

By Terry Lacey – Jakarta

The Egyptian-mediated reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas appear blocked over how to set up a unity government, elections and the make up of the security forces. But reportedly there has been some progress, for example on aspects of security policy. Talks may be resumed in Cairo this week. 

Meanwhile the Egyptians have been trying to establish on what basis the US and EU would end their boycott.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton already told President Abbas the new US administration would not deal with any Palestinian government not meeting Quartet conditions: recognition of Israel, renunciation of violence and abiding by all previous agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israel. (Jerusalem Post, March 22, 09)

Reportedly one way out of the impasse might be for a unity government to agree some points which might not yet be agreed by Hamas as a political movement.

Yet US President Obama is incapable of imposing a similar condition, in respect of all past agreements, on the new Israeli Likud-led government.

Incoming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has a track record of rejecting past deals with the Palestinians, just as he earlier dismantled the Oslo peace process.

The Jerusalem Post also reported West Bank security forces under President Mahmoud Abbas continue to arrest Hamas supporters. More than 600 Palestinians are in jail without trial. Abbas also wants Hamas to accept senior Fatah security men back in Gaza.

Emanuel Shahaf, a retired Israeli diplomat writing in The Jakarta Post recently stressed that the current Israeli attempt to choke off Hamas and cling to the losing side in the Palestinian power struggle was bound to fail.

Despite the present logjam Shahaf argued the Israeli government will have to talk to a Palestinian unity government including Hamas and that a unity government will be agreed because access to Gaza reconstruction funds depends on it.

Shahaf sees the offer of the Abbas-appointed West Bank Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to resign as opening the way for a deal with Hamas.

Finally he concludes that with Hamas refusing to recognize Israel, and incoming Likud renouncing the two-state solution, and threatening to destroy Hamas, that the responsibility for positive steps falls on the shoulders of the Obama administration.

Jossi Alpher, former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University argues this is not the right time to form a Hamas-Fatah government, while Hamas is so strong, since it could win the Palestinian Presidency and dominate the Parliament in democratic elections. (International Herald Tribune; March 5, 09).

He admits Hamas won the 2006 elections fair and square. He says it was a mistake of President Bush to allow the elections and Hamas to contest them, and also a mistake to refuse to accept the results. Also that the elected Parliament did not function because the Israelis arrested many of Hamas members. The besieging of Gaza, he contended, was also a mistake and seems to have made Hamas stronger.

Finally he argues that a Palestinian unity government should be delayed to the final phase before a twin state solution, if indeed one is still possible.

He advises talking to Hamas separately in Gaza on an economic deal, to continue to quarantine it politically, and keep it out of the West Bank – a far more strategic piece of land than Gaza – “until and unless it radically moderates its world view”.

Some analysts content that the Palestinian unity government is needed to rebuild Gaza, not to proceed to early comprehensive peace talks which the Israelis will not agree to. And then to help begin a slow process to legitimize Hamas and draw it into the ‘political dialogue’ and responsibilities previously denied to it by the international community after it won the 2006 elections.

However, if the new Hamas world view is to include respect for ‘democracy’, then perhaps the West should lead the way on that point.
– Terry Lacey is a development economist who writes from Jakarta on modernization in the Muslim world, investment and trade relations with the EU and Islamic banking. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
Our Vision For Liberation: Engaged Palestinian Leaders & Intellectuals Speak Out