Hamas and Fatah take tentative steps toward unity

Arch rivals meet in Qatar to iron out differences but chairmanship of Palestinian parliament remains a sticking point

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 Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani (center) and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal (right) in Doha, Qatar, on August 21, 2014 (AFP/PPO/Thaer Ghanem)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (left) with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani (center) and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal (right) in Doha, Qatar, on August 21, 2014 (AFP/PPO/Thaer Ghanem)

Once again, there are reports of rivals Hamas and Fatah drawing together ahead of an agreement on Palestinian unity.

Sources in the Gaza Strip and Ramallah told the London-based al-Araby al-Jadeed daily that in the coming two days meetings will be held in the Qatari capital of Doha between representatives from the two movements.

Fatah’s delegation will be led by Azzam al-Ahmad, who is in charge of reconciliation for the party, while the Hamas team will include Saleh al-Arouri, Moussa Abu Marzouk, and Izzat al-Rishq.

The sources toldal-Araby al-Jadeed that on Saturday a meeting was held in Istanbul between lower-level Hamas and Fatah representatives. The expectation is that if the meetings in Qatar go well, then Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will visit Doha in the near future to meet with Hamas political bureau head Khaled Mashaal.

According to the sources, the aim of the meetings is “setting up a national unity government in light of the present challenges” and paving the way to hold elections for the presidency and the Palestinian parliament.

On Sunday, Palestinian media reported that at the heart of the dispute is chairmanship of the Palestinian parliament, last chosen in 2006.

At the moment, that is officially a Hamas man, Abdul Aziz Duwaik. But Fatah wants to appoint one of its own people, or at least a third-party figure, since under Palestinian law the chairman of the parliament also inherits the job of president of the Palestinian Authority if the president — currently Mahmoud Abbas — can’t function in office.

Hamas has refused, and the two sides have decided for the time being to push off dealing with the matter until an agreement is reached on other points of contention, according to the report.

The sides have reportedly managed to come together on payment of wages for Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip, which the PA, the official body administering the Palestinian territories in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, has refused to hand over.

The issue torpedoed previous unity talks in 2014.

For the time being it has been agreed that for four months an Arab state (apparently Qatar) will pay the Hamas officials’ wages. During that period a committee is to be established under the authority of the PA and including representatives of the Arab state signing the checks, tasked with checking each one of the Hamas officials — over 40,000, by some counts — to decide whether to make them official employees of government ministries or to fire them.

There has been no word on the future of the Hamas security forces, which number several thousand gunmen.

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