For Palestinian unity, the devil is in the implementation

While Hamas and Fatah hail the reconciliation deal, its on-the-ground execution is unlikely to succeed

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinian delegation chief Azzam Al-Ahmad, left, with Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh at a press conference in Gaza in April 2014 (photo credit: AFP/Said Khatib)
Palestinian delegation chief Azzam Al-Ahmad, left, with Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip Ismail Haniyeh at a press conference in Gaza in April 2014 (photo credit: AFP/Said Khatib)

‘The question is not about the agreement,” a leading Palestinian analyst said, addressing the Palestinian unity deal announced on Wednesday. “The question is about its implementation.”

Like many of his colleagues in Gaza and the West Bank, the analyst understands that the deal signed Wednesday afternoon in the home of Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh is just the latest of many like it in recent years. Its stipulations are all too familiar: the establishment of a technocratic government within five weeks, an agreement on a date for parliamentary and presidential elections within six months, and “even” reform in the PLO organizations.

There is nothing new under the sun. And because of past experience, major question marks loom over the deal, and the likelihood that it will come into effect, for a number of reasons.

First, the most important condition, that the two parties have not yet decided upon, is an election date. If there is no ruling on an election date in the next five weeks, it will mean real unity will not be reached.

For Palestinian Authority President and Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas, this is the most fundamental clause, since he is wary of Hamas attempting to evade elections it is likely to lose.

While Haniyeh and Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal, as well as others, support the unity agreement, others in the group’s military wing and figures such as Hamas interior minister Fathi Hammad do not want a reconciliation that will ultimately lead to elections and a potential Fatah victory. In such a scenario, Hamas could be forced to surrender its governance of the Gaza Strip.

A lack of trust between the two sides is another reason to question how solid the pact is.

It’s difficult to find an official in either organization who believes that the agreement will be implemented or that either side will step aside in an election defeat.

And yet, Hamas officials have – at least until now – presented the reconciliation deal as serious. It’s possible they understand that the organization’s situation, particularly in the Gaza Strip, is dire and that relations with Egypt are deteriorating. In addition, at least some of them believe they can beat out Fatah in elections.

And what about Abbas? Israeli officials wasted no time in declaring that the PA president had forged a deal with the devil. At the same time, Jerusalem downplayed the dealings it has had with Hamas to maintain relative calm in the south.

For Abbas, this is a win-win situation, and the polls already predict his success in the elections (though we saw this in the parliamentary elections of 2006, when his Fatah faction lost out to Hamas).

Moreover, he is being handed PA administrative control in Gaza. What’s been agreed is not actually a unity government; it is rather a government headed by experts, under his leadership. No Hamas or Fatah official will be in it.

If he is able to regain control over the Strip, Abbas will be able to dismiss claims that he doesn’t have the authority to sign a peace deal because he doesn’t rule Gaza.

But Abbas knows that just like in the past, the devil is in the details. What will happen to the PLO institutions – by far the most significant to Hamas? What representation will the Islamists have there and how will elections for these bodies be held? And what about all the Hamas government officials – who will pay their salaries and what will become of them?

There is also the question of what will happen to the armed wing of Hamas the day after elections, should Fatah win?

It seems that the end of the journey to reconciliation remains, on the evening after the agreement was signed and hailed, a long way off.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed