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Hamas, Fatah Unification Faces Another Roadblock

Benjamin Gottlieb |
February 12, 2012 | 8:23 p.m. PST

Executive Editor

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Photo via Creative Commons).
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Photo via Creative Commons).
Surging momentum for political reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas -- the two Palestinian factions controlling the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, respectively -- reached an all-too-familiar impasse Sunday, after fruitful talks between the two parties last week produced a reunification plan.

Mahmoud al-Zahar, Hamas' co-founder and prominent Gaza Strip political figure, lambasted the accord reached last Monday between Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas and exiled Hamas chief Khaled Mashal that would unite the two parties. The agreement, brokered during a meeting in Doha, Qatar, called for Abbas, the Palestinian president, to serve as prime minister of a new, coalition government.

As prime minister, the Abbas-led coalition would stay in power long enough for new elections to be held, the accord stated.

But while Abbas said last week the two sides would work tirelessly to put their plan into action, Hamas' political elite remain split over the agreement -- Al-Zahar, in particular.

"It's very noticeable that the Hamas leadership in Gaza is drifting away from the Hamas exiled leadership," Mkhaimar Abusada, a political-science professor at Al Azhar Univeristy in Gaza City, told the Wall Street Journal. "Mashal has been weakened. He is trying to show some moderation because of the changes in the Middle East. But the Hamas leaders in Gaza Strip are on their own territory and not as affected."

Last week's agreement, and the resulting political fireworks, highlight the complex idiosyncrasies of the Palestinian political hierarchy and the nonspecific roles of exiled leaders, party founders and the current leadership, alike.

As for this current deal of unification for the sake of new elections, Abbas and his allies are struggling to convince Hamas's Gaza Strip leaders to come along, according to the Associated Press.

From the Associated Press:

The Palestinian leader has to satisfy international demands that the interim government — to consist of politically independent technocrats — not be a front for Hamas, shunned by the West as a terror group.If it is seen as too close to Hamas, the Palestinians would likely lose hundreds of millions of dollars in Western aid.

At the same time, he risks sabotage from Hamas leaders in Gaza if he tries to strip them of too much of their power.

In the nearly five years it ruled the territory, Hamas hired some 40,000 civil servants and security forces, many of them supporters of the movement, while 62,000 troops and civil servants forced out by the 2007 takeover — many of them pro-Abbas — are waiting to return to their old government jobs.

Outside the political infighting, the Israeli leadership continue to oppose any sort of Fatah reconciliation with Hamas.

From the Wall Street Journal:

Israeli officials continue to regard Hamas as a sworn enemy and have dismissed Mr. Mashal's softening. Israeli Prime Minister Benjmian Netanyahu on Sunday reiterated his criticism of Mr. Abbas for pursuing reconciliation with Hamas.

Political analysts said the criticism of [Mashal's] moves toward reconciliation with Mr. Abbas reflects disquiet among Hamas's military wing, which is concerned that it will come under pressure to sacrifice its control over Gaza for the sake of Palestinian reconciliation. Mr. Mashal has said he would accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip but hasn't endorsed negotiations with Israel or its recognition.


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