RAMALLAH, West Bank — Warring Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have drafted an agreement to end their two-year civil war. But U.S. diplomats oppose the deal. Here’s why.
The planned agreement, a copy of which GlobalPost obtained from senior Palestinian officials this week, goes some way toward validating Hamas control of the Gaza Strip. The 25-page document in Arabic also orders Palestinian security forces, currently being trained by a U.S. general, to “respect the right of the Palestinian people to resist and to defend the homeland and the citizens,” suggesting that attacks against Israeli targets won’t be countered.
The agreement could be a major setback to the Obama administration’s attempt to get recalcitrant Israeli and Palestinian negotiators back into peace talks. Israel is not likely to strike a deal with Fatah if it believes its "partners" in the "peace process" are making nice to Hamas.
The measures laid out in the document suggest Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has succumbed to recent domestic pressure over his handling of a U.N. report critical of Israel’s tactics in the war in Gaza at the turn of the year. Abbas was criticized for dropping plans to push for hearings against Israel at the International Court of Justice in The Hague over the U.N. report. He has revived those plans, but now also risks a confrontation with the U.S. over a deal that concedes much ground to the Islamist party.
Fatah officials say they signed the agreement already this week, though they added that the text of the deal hasn’t been made public. Hamas has yet to sign the document. By Oct. 25, according to the document, Abbas will ink an order scheduling elections for June next year.
Hamas drove Abbas’s Fatah faction out of the Gaza Strip by force of arms in spring 2007, when the Islamist party also controlled parliament and the prime minister’s post. Since then, Abbas has ruled from Ramallah with a prime minister Hamas says is illegitimate. Both sides have tortured opponents and, according to human rights groups, Hamas has murdered Fatah supporters in Gaza. (The text obtained by GlobalPost includes provisions for the release of political prisoners by both sides.)
The tension between the two factions has been a factor in the stalled peace talks with Israel. The U.S. has pushed for a deal that would end the civil conflict, though Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Ramallah earlier this year that any agreement must not allow Hamas a role in Palestinian government. Since Fatah was driven out of Gaza, it has paid wages to government workers there, but ordered them to stay at home.
In repeated negotiations under the auspices of the United States' Egyptian allies, Fatah appears now to have conceded a governing role to Hamas. The agreement calls for a “joint committee” to act as a transitional government over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The committee would be staffed by Fatah and Hamas officials.
That would probably mean government workers in Gaza would go back to their desks, working under Hamas rule — something the U.S., which along with the European Union pays much of their salaries, opposes.
The agreement calls for “a culture of tolerance, affection and reconciliation.” Before signing the deal, Abbas slipped in some less than affectionate rhetoric about Hamas Tuesday in Jenin. He called Hamas’s Gaza Strip an “Emirate of Darkness.”
The newly decreed tolerance doesn’t seem to extend to Israel either. Resistance to Israel’s occupation must be respected by Palestinian security forces, the document says.
That won’t sit well with General Keith Dayton, the U.S. adviser who has transformed the Palestinian security forces over the last year. Israeli military chiefs acknowledge that cooperation with Palestinian troops has never been better and have consequently removed a number of checkpoints on key West Bank arteries. The proposed agreement appears to turn back the clock to the days of Yasser Arafat’s regime in the 1990s, when senior Palestinian security officials were never quite sure if they were supposed to arrest militants — to protect the peace agreement with Israel — or let them engage in valid “resistance” against Israeli targets. Under such circumstances, Israel’s newfound confidence in the Palestinian security forces would be dented and Dayton’s good work would be set back.
U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell reportedly communicated Washington’s opposition to Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman over the weekend, according to reports in the Israeli media. The U.S. Embassy was not available for comment on this issue.
However, analysts here concur that the U.S. wouldn’t be likely to oppose all elements of the agreement. In particular the proposals for the elections next year favor Fatah. The number of parliamentary seats selected by proportional representation is to be increased. In the 2006 elections, Hamas won largely because it did well in seats selected by district.
That’s not going to be enough to get Mitchell to buy it. But it may already be too late for him to stop it.