Sunday, October 25, 2009

Brinkmanship that betrays the Palestinians

Today, Fatah and Hamas were supposed to sign their reconciliation agreement in Cairo. Unsurprisingly, there is no agreement to sign.

Palestinian politics is played as a game of chicken, with brinkmanship the increasingly preferred tactic in the struggle for control of the Palestinians’ ideological future.

Mahmoud Abbas’s unilateral declaration on Friday that elections will be held in late January drew harsh criticism from Hamas, which now threatens to hold a parallel election in the Gaza Strip.

For Fatah, it is a calculated bet that Hamas will be forced to participate in the polls or risk becoming irrelevant. Hamas hopes its intransigence will wring concessions from Fatah and thus bolster its waning legitimacy.

Successive attempts at forging a unity agreement after the ejection of Fatah from Gaza in 2007 have failed to make any headway.

Hamas is unwilling to cede the gains it made in the 2006 elections by sharing power with Fatah, and Fatah is unwilling to give a majority stake in government to a party that seeks to erase or reshape decades of political agreements with the Israelis.

The deadlock has persisted for so long because neither party had enough clout among Palestinians to force concessions from the other. That is now changing, mostly because of the actions of Hamas; it has overplayed its hand.

While it was technically elected to power by the Palestinians in their first election in 10 years, Hamas had reason to object to a key proponent of the unity agreement: ceding sole control of the Gaza Strip. However, its term of office will be over in January 2010. Mr Abbas can legitimately call for elections; should Hamas make good on its threat to hold separate elections in Gaza, it would become as culpable as Fatah.

The greatest criticism levelled at Fatah, and what ultimately led to its defeat in the 2006 elections, is its tendency to be above the law.
Yet Hamas is in danger of becoming seen as the same, and, even worse, duplicitous.

When Mr Abbas’s term as president expired in January, Hamas demanded that he step down. Instead, he unilaterally extended his term by an additional year. Now, when Mr Abbas makes good on his promise to hold elections for both the legislative council and the presidency, Hamas is opposed to the idea. To the ordinary Palestinian, Hamas’s machinations are growing increasingly tiresome.

This is especially true given Hamas’s poor governance of Gaza. While the Gaza Strip was blockaded by Israel, international aid was funnelled through Fatah into the West Bank and training was given to the Palestinian security forces to turn them into an increasingly respected police force.

Hamas’s policy platitudes appeared hollow as the people of Gaza suffered deprivations while the West Bank was relatively secure and prosperous. Hamas continues to assure the Palestinians of their impending victory over Israel, but all the Gazans see is a defunct economy in which basic necessities are difficult to come by.

Hamas’s prevarications have been exposed, and so it fears the ballot. The danger is that in the absence of a popular mandate, Hamas will resort to arms to reassert itself. But unless it is willing to honour previous agreements made in the peace process there is no room for it at the bargaining table.

Its zero-sum politics have failed to accomplish anything meaningful, and it is past time that it turned to more productive paths to achieve what it says it wants: a Palestinian state.

Source: The National

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