Understanding the Palestinian Unity Agreement

Understanding the Palestinian Unity Agreement

By Rob Danin, via CNN 

07.02.12
 
Former head of the office of the Quartet Representative, Tony Blair, in Jerusalem, discusses the Palestinian unity goverment, the reasons why it came about now, and the obstacles it could face. An interesting analysis for anyone looking for insight into Fatah and Hamas relations. 
 
In an innovation that apparently violates the Palestinian Basic Law, the two sides agreed that Mahmoud Abbas would serve as both president and prime minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Recall, the PA’s prime minister position was established in 2003 and Abbas was appointed to that post to reduce the absolute powers of the presidency, then in Yassir Arafat’s hands. Ironically, it is now Abbas as president who is seeking to claim back what he once tried to take away.
 
Monday's announcement is more of a statement of intent than it is a full-fledged accord. When it comes to Palestinian unity agreements - and there have been a few - the announcement is the easy part.
 
Recall the February 2007 Mecca Accords and last April’s unity agreement –each either collapsed rather quickly or was never even implemented. In the case of last April’s unity agreement, many of the key details were left to be resolved. Such is the case today. Will finances be shared under the unity agreement? Will Hamas agree to disband, let alone agree to recognize previous PLO agreements (including recognition of Israel)?
 
Another key question is: just how independent would such a transitional government be? The approach adopted last April, while calling for a technocratic government, also called for an outside steering committee comprised of Hamas and Fatah that would provide direction to the government.
 
Such directional control would have been enough for such a government to be considered untouchable by the United States, and probably the other members of the Quartet. These kinds of critical details will need to be addressed before the two sides reconvene in Cairo on February 18 as they have agreed to do.
 
Perhaps the more interesting question is why, after just last week when Fatah officials criticized Hamas for failing to consult in earnest, did the two sides come together with today’s shotgun announcement?
 
Two sets of shifting, interrelated regional dynamics are at play here. First, both Fatah and Hamas have effectively lost their respective patrons - Mubarak in the former case, and Assad in the latter. This has created something of a vacuum that has led to a second phenomenon: other regional players stepping in to try to help encourage Palestinian developments along.
 
Over the past month, Jordan has shepherded talks with Israel in an effort to guide the two parties back to final status negotiations. Amidst intensive Jordanian diplomatic efforts, the Qataris called Abbas and Khaled Meshal to Doha, and apparently made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. It remains to be seen if Abbas said yes as a polite guest, or if he is serious about moving forward.
 
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