Wednesday, November 15

The Possible Future Unity Government in Gaza

While the shadow of the terrible tragedy in Gaza last week remains in evidence, Mahmoud Abbas is initiating talks once again for the establishment of a National Unity Government in Gaza. The facilitators towards this end are Egypt and Jordan. Hamas has climbed the trees of non-recognition of Israel, continuing terror against Israel and still not releasing Gilad Shalit, the kidnapped soldier. Qassam rockets are being fired relentlessly into Sderot, causing injuries, loss of life and destruction of property. Despite all this, there is some Hamas movement trying to gain legitimacy in Europe, the US and the rest of the world in order to gain much needed funds for their strapped economy. It has been referred to as “Hamas-lite” tactics which just stops short of recognizing Israel.

An unknown personality has been found who could replace Ismail Haniyeh. Dr. Mohamed Shbeir, a US-educated academic, as the prime minister in a unity government. Shbeir, who has a PhD in microbiology from the University of West Virginia in the US, was president of the Islamic University in Gaza for 15 years until 2005 and has no previous political career. There seems to be a consensus amongst the various factions in the Palestinian Government to appoint him. He is a moderate and he could be a positive change provided he accepts the three conditions - recognition of Israel, cessation of violence and release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.

In his interviews to the press he has not committed himself to these conditions which are the key for much needed European, U.S. and World Aid generally. It seems that he is playing for time and does not want to make any changes in attitudes towards Israel at this stage in case he jeopardizes the trust that the various factions now show towards him. Dr. Mahmoud Zahar, the Foreign Minister and a Hamas hardliner, in an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, 13th November 2006, has stated that “we will not recognize Israel, and we will not set conditions. We do not want to repeat the mistakes of Fatah when it recognized (Israel) and made concessions. The result is the tragedy we are living now.” He continued “Hamas will not change its position no matter how high the level of pressures”. Zahar will not accept the idea of land-for-peace despite the Arab initiative that accepts that principle. Zahar continues, “We did not recognize the Arab initiative, and we ask: What is its value on the ground? The answer is "nothing," because America rejected it, and so did Israel. Besides, we do not accept anything that recognizes Israel.” The point is whether this hard-line attitude will prevail under Shbeir or not.

Despite this, there is reason to be cautiously optimistic about cessation of hostilities towards Israel in the end. One thing Shbeir has admitted and that is a desire to be pragmatic. Will Shbeir be able to show a desire towards moderation despite the hardliners in the Hamas ruled coalition? Time will tell. It is still early to judge what direction Shbeir will move.

It would not be surprising if his appointment could create a split between the moderate Hamas members and the hardliners in the Hamas lead Palestinian Authority. The Fatah members, who support rapprochement with Israel, may be able to influence the moderates in Hamas to be pragmatic in their attitude towards Israel. If this happens then perhaps the moderates under Mahmoud Abbas would agree to negotiate with Israel. Israeli PM Ehud Olmert has stated his readiness to negotiate even with Hamas if they accept the conditions as proscribed by the International Community.

Dr. Mohammed Shbeir has lived and studied in the United States. This could be an advantage as he knows the American mentality. The United States has shown signs of supporting Shbeir’s appointment.

It is also important to emphasize the danger of Iran’s nuclear programme to the Palestinians. If Mohammed Ahmadinajad continues in his rhetoric, about his nuclear programme, and desire to destroy Israel as he has been doing recently, the Palestinians are not immune to nuclear fall-out from Iran. The Palestinian leadership must realize that nuclear weapons know no boundaries and they are in no less danger than the rest of the world. Ahmadinajad is not interested in the Palestinians! He is only interested in them if it promotes his own megalomaniac interests in dominating them! Ahmadinajad views Israel and the West as an obstacle to his desire to rule the world and introduce his warped world view of extremist Shiite Islam as a model of iron rule. Ahmadinajad is an evil man and it is incumbent on the world community (including the Arab States) to apply pressure on Iran to remove him from power.

If Hamas adopts an extremist attitude as it has done up to now, the future for the Palestinian People will be very bleak indeed. Further acts of terror against Israel, such as suicide attacks and Qassam rocket fire in southern Israel, will result in the predictable Israeli Army retaliations and more tragedies like the recent Bet Hanoun tragedy whether intentional or not.

The time has come for both the Palestinians and Israelis to climb down their trees of intransigence. Whether both sides realize it or not, they have a common enemy called Ahmadinajad and both sides must come to terms with that. Apart from that, the long term interest for both sides is obvious. Peace is beneficial to the Palestinians no less than to the Israelis. It will allow the Palestinians to establish a Palestinian state with an economy that will offer job opportunities, education and a sound infra-structure which is lacking today. There is nothing to replace peaceful negotiations between the two sides in achieving a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.

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