Analysis: Two months on, Palestinian unity proves elusive

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 27, 2011 5:44 PM
Analysis: Two months on, Palestinian unity proves elusive

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) - Two months after announcing a surprise reconciliation deal to end years of feuding, rival Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah remain at loggerheads, unable to implement even the easiest parts of their accord.

A senior Hamas official blamed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday for the deadlock, accusing him of being inflexible over who should head the planned unity government.

Abbas's Fatah movement said discussions continued, but conceded that there were no top-level meetings scheduled to resolve an issue that officials on both sides had predicted would be sorted out within days of their April 27 accord.

With the reconciliation drive at an apparent standstill, Abbas is continuing to push ahead with his move to secure United Nations recognition of Palestinian statehood in September.

But analysts said the political deadlock would raise tensions in the Palestinian Territories and augured ill for the future of relations between the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, and Abbas's mainly secular Fatah, which holds sway in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

"I did not believe that this reconciliation would go anywhere from the word go," said political analyst Hani Habib.

"The problems are not just about one person. The problem is that there is no willingness on the side of Hamas or Fatah to bring about reconciliation on the ground," he added.

STICKING WITH FAYYAD

Forging Palestinian unity was regarded as crucial to giving credibility to the push for independence, and in a deal brokered by Egypt, Fatah and Hamas agreed to create a government of independents to start preparing for long-delayed elections.

Abbas has insisted that Salam Fayyad, an internationally respected former World Bank economist, should remain prime minister of any future administration.

Hamas, which is shunned by the West for refusing to recognize Israel and failing to renounce violence, wants a new figurehead and neither side shows any sign of backing down.

Senior Hamas leader Khalil Al-Hayya said on Monday Abbas "has no right" to stick to Fayyad. "We signed the reconciliation accord which stated that choosing the prime minister and the ministers would be done through agreement," he added.

Fatah insists the president can nominate his own prime minister and officials say in private that Abbas is eager to keep Fayyad to allay Western concerns over any alliance with Hamas, which is branded a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

As the reconciliation pact stagnates, so too apparently has a U.S. push to revive peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

A round of secret meetings with U.S. envoys aimed at getting the two parties back round the table has not yet achieved any breakthrough and Abbas reaffirmed on Sunday that he planned to win the Palestinians U.N. recognition this coming September.

"I have said we will go to the United Nations if negotiations fail," Abbas told a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is dominated by his Fatah group.

"So far we have not received any project to resume the negotiations ... and will therefore go to the United Nations to get a resolution for Palestine to be a member of this international institution."

NO HOLIDAY

A Palestinian envoy told Reuters diplomats had been banned from taking holidays in the coming weeks as they prepare for their U.N. offensive, with delegations due to visit a number of countries to try to win backing for the September initiative.

Although well over 100 countries are expected to back the Palestinians, the United States has made clear it intends to veto any resolution brought before the U.N. Security Council -- a move likely to doom efforts to secure full U.N. membership.

Hamas has dismissed the U.N. maneuvering, warning it would not bring any joy to Palestinians. "Whoever bets on a mirage will harvest failure," Hayya said on Monday.

While endorsing the U.N. mission, some Fatah officials openly fret that failure to implement the Hamas reconciliation deal could lead to a backlash on the streets.

While turmoil has swept much of the Arab world this year, the Palestinian Territories have been relatively quiet.

However, just before the April 27 accord was unveiled, protests bubbled up in both the West Bank and Gaza to demand an end to the Hamas/Fatah schism. Locals say failure to follow through on their public commitments could inflame passions.

"If no prime minister is named shortly, the people won't believe their politicians any more. They will think they have been taken for a ride and we will soon see demonstrations," senior Fatah official Sabri Saidam said in Ramallah.

(Writing by Crispian Balmer, Editing by Mark Trevelyan)