According to a report by Al Jazeera 8th February 2007, rival Palestinian leaders have signed a deal to form a government of national unity aimed at ending lethal infighting and a crippling international boycott.
The deal, mediated by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, was confirmed at a signing ceremony in Mecca on Thursday.
Mammoud Abbas, the Palestinian president and leader of Fatah, asked Ismail Haniyeh, the current Hamas-nominated prime minister, to form the new government.
Abbas and Khaled Meshaal, the exiled leader of the Hamas, signed the deal in a palace overlooking the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine.
The deal sets out the principles of the coalition government, including a promise that it will "respect" previous peace deals with Israel, delegates said. (However, in later news reports, the issue of recognition of Israel was never discussed. If this is the case it is doubtful whether they will respect previous deals with Israel.)
Meshaal said the accord "will unify our ranks. There is a commitment and unity. We will preserve this partnership".
The following is a text of Abbas' message to Haniyeh: This is the basis of the agreement signed between Hamas and Fatah.
“In my capacity as the head of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the president of the Palestinian Authority...
a) I designate you to form the upcoming Palestinian government within the time specified under the basic law (five weeks.)
b) After forming the government and presenting it to us, it should be presented to the Palestinian Legislative Council for a vote of confidence.
c) I call upon you as the head of the upcoming Palestinian government to commit to the higher interests of the Palestinian people, to preserve its rights and to preserve its achievements and to develop them, and to work in order to achieve its national goals as was approved by the Palestine National Council, the clauses of the Basic Law and the National Reconciliation Document ... Based on this, I call upon you to respect international resolutions and the agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organization (referring to peace accords with Israel).
Under the agreement, Hamas will hold nine ministries in the Cabinet, including the prime minister's post. Fatah will hold six, and other factions will hold four. Fatah will name independents as foreign minister and two state ministers without portfolio. Hamas will name independents as interior minister, planning minister and a state minister without portfolio”.
What does all this mean in practice? According to the agreement, this will result in the formation of a new Palestinian Cabinet with members of Fatah, Hamas and independent politicians.
The talks in the Saudi city of Mecca, mediated by Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz, has led to agreement on the allocation of several posts in the cabinet.
- Ziyad Abu Amr, an independent, is the new foreign minister.
- Salam Fayyad, from the Third Way Party, becomes finance minister.
- The remaining ministerial posts include nine ministers from Hamas and six from Fatah.
- Four other ministerial posts will be distributed among other Palestinian factions.
- Five posts will be assigned to independent politicians not belonging to any political faction.
- Three of the independents will be nominated by Hamas and two by Fatah.
If one were to examine the composition if the new cabinet of national unity, Hamas has been weakened and this could be significant in policy making vis a vis Israel. Despite the fact that P.M. Ismail Haniyeh and Khaled Mashal, the Hamas leader, are still not prepared to recognize Israel’s right to exist, it remains to be seen whether their determination not to recognize Israel will form the basis of the new Unity Government’s attitude toward Israel. This does give some leeway, from the Palestinian point of view, to gain recognition by the US, European Union and the UN to end the sanctions against Hamas. In reality, it does not go far enough. Dr. Mahmoud Al-Zahar, the extremist Hamas Foreign Minister, has been ousted, leaving the way open for a more pragmatic approach towards Israel. However, their attitude towards Israel remains ambivalent.
Another important point is the Saudi attempt to weaken Iran’s influence on the Palestinian Authority by becoming the Palestinians’ guardian. This will involve Saudi Arabia investing large sums of money in Gaza. It could influence the future of peace in the region by a bringing up the Saudi Peace Plan of 2002 for recognition of Israel. This Saudi Peace Plan is reasonable and has many positive aspects. Hamas did however state that they would abide by agreements previously signed between Israel and the Palestinians if in their view it serves their interests. At this stage, it is very likely that Hamas will try for a hudna or long term settlement with Israel. No doubt, Israel will view that with extreme caution. It is uncertain at this stage whether weapon smuggling from Egypt will cease under a long term settlement. Hamas’s record of sticking to any agreement with Israel remains poor to say the least.
It is doubtful whether Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the other extremists will disarm and cease violence towards Israel. They could re-ignite the power struggle between themselves and Fatah. This possibility exists, if they do not change their attitudes towards violence and coming to terms with Israel’s existence. Perhaps at this early stage, the Hamas faction may need time to regain their strength and once again regroup for another round of violence. In order to achieve this, they need a temporary cessation of violence. They may decide on a change of strategy by signing an agreement with Israel for an indefinite cease-fire of their own choosing. It is almost certain that Israel will not accept that.
There is not much room for optimism, however guarded, with the Mecca Agreement. It may prevent fighting between the various factions in the Palestinian Authority as the main players have been neutralized by the agreement. However, if there is no parallel movement towards recognizing Israel, Hamas may once again turn on Mahmoud Abbas and undermine him in a power struggle that leads nowhere apart from further suffering for the Palestinians.