Abbas Embraces Hamas as Rival Groups Unite before Vote

By Akram, Fares | International Herald Tribune, February 7, 2012 | Go to article overview

Abbas Embraces Hamas as Rival Groups Unite before Vote


Akram, Fares, International Herald Tribune


The breaking of the deadlock between the two rival Palestinian factions signaled a significant step toward reconciling the two movements as they prepare for elections.

President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority embraced reconciliation with the Islamist movement of Hamas on Monday, agreeing to head a unity government to prepare elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

His move, cautiously hailed by a broad range of Palestinians fed up with the brutal split at the heart of their national movement, promised to upend Israeli-Palestinian relations, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning Mr. Abbas that he could have peace with Israel or unity with Hamas -- but not both.

The agreement between Mr. Abbas, leader of Fatah, and Khaled Meshal, the head of Hamas, was yet another in the convulsions spreading across the Middle East over the past year involving the rise of political Islam and the challenge to pro-Western forces. It put Israel, which is nervously watching the new order taking shape around it, further on edge.

"Hamas is an enemy of peace," Mr. Netanyahu said. "It's an Iranian-backed terror organization committed to Israel's destruction." On Sunday, he told his cabinet that for Israel living in the Middle East required self-sufficiency and toughness.

"In such a region," he said, "the only thing that ensures our existence, security and prosperity is our strength."

Mr. Abbas and Mr. Meshal announced their agreement in Doha, the capital of Qatar, which appears to be seeking the role of Hamas sponsor since the Islamist group had to leave its longtime base in Damascus, the Syrian capital, as a result of the thousands killed there by the forces of President Bashar al-Assad.

The leaders said they would announce the full Palestinian government in the coming week or two along with a date for presidential and legislative elections.

It was unclear what role if any the current prime minister, Salam Fayyad, would play in the interim government. Mr. Fayyad is admired abroad for his financial transparency and is the reason some countries provide aid -- more than $1 billion annually in total.

The planned elections are unlikely to take place this spring, as promised last May when the Hamas-Fatah unity accord was first signed.

Many of the details are bound to produce a struggle and Palestinians greeted the news with relief but skepticism, especially in Gaza.

"The Palestinian people look suspiciously at Fatah-Hamas understandings because they have been repeated dozens of times without finding their way to implementation," said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Al-Azhar University, in Gaza.

This latest signed document may face the same fate. The rival movements have to negotiate complex power sharing and a restructuring of the Palestine Liberation Organization, from which Hamas has been excluded. …

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