Fatah-Hamas Pact: A Flawed Agreement

Fatah-Hamas Pact: A Flawed Agreement

Last week in the Islamic holy city of Mecca, the government of Saudi Arabian King Abdullah hosted a summit meeting between Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), president of the Palestinian Authority and leader of the “mainstream” Fatah movement, and Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of the Hamas movement, in which the two leaders agreed to form a “government of national unity.” At first blush, and in the initial positive reactions in media and Europe, the agreement was touted as a “major breakthrough” not only towards ending the virtual civil war in Gaza and the West Bank between Fatah and Hamas, but also towards a resumption of the stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace process.

It was clear that something urgent needed to be done to quell the violence between Fatah and Hamas militias and security forces in which a total of nearly 100 Palestinians were killed in what was already being described as a “civil war” in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. Mahmoud Abbas remains president of the Palestinian Authority, but Hamas has been in control of the parliament and executive branch of the P.A. since its election victory a year ago. Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, has been unable to rein in his own militias to stop the violence, and Abbas has proved to be consistently incapable of silencing Fatah guns. Saudi Arabia, along with other relatively moderate Arab states, have been anxious to defuse the Palestinian crisis which has added to the general chaos in the region, which includes the war in Iraq, Hezbollah’s efforts to topple the moderate government in Lebanon and the Iran nuclear threat. Khaled Meshaal, the supreme leader of Hamas, who has been living in exile in Syria, and Abbas were summoned to Mecca in a desperate effort to calm the unfolding civil strife in the Palestinian territories. On arrival in Mecca, one of Islam’s three holiest cities, Abbas said, “We will not leave this holy place until we have agreed on everything good, with God’s blessing. I tell our people to expect good news, and I hope this will not be mere words in the air.” For his part, Meshaal said, “We came here to agree and we have no other option but to agree.”

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Unfortunately, Abbas’s fear that the accord would be “mere words in the air” seems to have been well-founded. While the text of a letter issued by Abbas calls on the new government to be formed by Haniyeh “to respect international resolutions and the agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization,” it fails to point out that Hamas is not a member of the PLO, and has turned down numerous invitations to come under its umbrella. Moreover, no sooner had the ink dried on the agreement, Hamas reiterated its official vow “never to recognize Israel.” While the accord has made it possible for Fatah members to become ministers in the Haniyeh Cabinet, there was no agreement on the key demands by Israel and the United States that Hamas must clearly and explicitly recognize Israel, renounce terrorism and cease all violent acts against Israelis. Those demands had also been backed by the other three partners in the “Quartet” pushing the so-called “Road Map to Peace,” the European Union, the United Nations and Russia.

While the United States has indicated that the agreement falls short of its minimum demands, and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has said it is unacceptable, some European foreign ministers have expressed tentative support for the agreement, which could lead to the release of millions of dollars in European aid to the Palestinian Authority without its having to comply with the original demands.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to meet next week in the region with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas in order to advance the peace progress, which Rice has indicated is one of her main foreign policy priorities in the immediate future. We hope that Rice will make it absolutely clear that “mere words in the air” by Hamas do not constitute meaningful compliance with the clear demands of the interational community. To allow funds to flow into the coffers of the Palestinian Authority government headed by Hamas, while the terrorist group continues its defiant refusal to recognize Israel would make a mockery of the already moribund Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” We trust that Secretary Rice will make those facts clear to Abbas in the upcoming summit with him and Olmert.