Thursday, April 24, 2014

A match made in heaven?

Over the past year Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has stood strong on two legs. The first leg has been negotiations with Israel, and the second, reconciliation talks with Hamas. This is also the reason for the Catch-22 in which he has found himself: He would need to concede one of these legs, but walking on one leg alone would lead to his downfall. He chose, therefore, to remain in place, to conduct negotiations with Israel and Hamas but not to move ahead in either.
And yet Abbas decided to go forward with Hamas regardless, and risk Israeli countermeasures. Still, his agreement with the Hamas leadership should be treated with caution and skepticism. Similar deals reached by the sides in the past were repeatedly violated, and the most recent Palestinian unity government, established in early 2006, came crashing down with Hamas' hostile takeover in Gaza, while Abbas moved to erase Hamas' foothold in the West Bank. Regardless, after nearly a decade of fruitless talks, the sides have struck the deal they had been unwilling to accept. They signed the deal, therefore, due to a lack of other options, and as stated, it is doubtful the sides will uphold it.

Hamas comes to this wedding ceremony without any dowry to speak of. Syria and Iran turned their backs on it for supporting the rebels fighting Syrian President Bashar Assad's regime; in Egypt, Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashaal are considered dangerous enemies, on par with their Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood brethren currently sitting behind bars. In Gaza, Hamas' popularity has sunk to new lows because of its struggles to provide the people there with even a minimal respectful living. Hamas, therefore, needs Abbas like emergency oxygen, just like Arafat needed the Oslo Accords, some two decades ago, to re-solidify his standing.
But Abbas is also coming to this marriage empty-handed. No one in the Arab world truly supports him, and he already knows not to expect much from the international community. The impending failure of negotiations with Israel will, more than likely, reinvigorate calls from the Palestinian street to renew the armed struggle against Israel, which Abbas knows from history is liable to ruin him.
From this point forward then we can see the logic behind Abbas' and Haniyeh's sudden willingness to join hands. However, it seems like a show aimed at facilitating their survival at home in the face of increasing domestic unrest, and perhaps to slightly strengthen their standing in the region and abroad.

With that, it is difficult to foresee Abbas and Hamas not only being able to overcome their troubled history, but primarily their fundamental differences in world views and long-term political interests. Therefore we should not assume that this unity government -- if it even gets off the ground -- will last for long.

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