The reconciliation pact signed by the two rival Palestinian factions, Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah and the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip Wednesday April 23, more or less wiped the US-sponsored Middle East peace process off the Obama administration and the Netanyahu government’s agendas.
Instead of playing on the international stage as he has for decades, Palestinian Authority Chairman Abbas, has reduced his role to the parochial level on an issue which no longer holds much interest – even for the Arab world.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who invested so much energy and prestige into a huge effort to bring Israel and the Palestinians to a final peace agreement, will no doubt now call off the visit he planned to make next week for another bid to narrow the gap between the two sides. If he comes after all, it will be to attend the funeral of his peace mission.
President Barack Obama has thus joined his predecessors, including Bill Clinton and George Bush, who eventually despaired of resolving the unending Israeli-Palestinian dispute.
US and Israel intelligence caught by surprise
According to DEBKA Weekly’s sources, US and Israeli intelligence services were both caught napping by the reconciliation ceremony in Gaza City Wednesday. They had no notion that Abbas (Abu Mazen) had completed the drafting in secret of a unity pact and had it ready for signing on the spot by Wednesday, after it was carried to Gaza City by Fatah officials whom Israel permitted to reach Gaza without scenting what was afoot.
This raises hard questions: If John Kerry was not clued in on what the Palestinians were up to – even after setting up a 200-member task force for the negotiations headed by Martin Indyk; and if Netanyahu was not properly briefed on Palestinian steps by his intelligence services – then on what basis did they conduct negotiations for more than a year?
Their lack of knowledge apart, there is another question: What on earth impelled Abbas to pull this April surprise out of his hat?
The short answer is that he was desperate to raise his sagging prestige on the Palestinian street and hit on the popular slogans of national reconciliation and a unified government to give his prestige a boost.
The Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip were just as needy
The unity pact was meant to give both regimes a shot in the arm – at least for the short term.
Fatah-Hamas divisions are papered over
The odds of the deal surviving up to the formation of a national unity government within five weeks and elections within six months are poor.
Aside from those two measures, Fatah and Hamas agree on nothing – not even on the name of a prime minister.
What will happen to Hamas’s massive arsenal of rockets aimed from Gaza at Israel? Will its military arm, the Izz e-Din Al Qassam Brigades, be disbanded and merged into the National Security Force the Americans established for the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank?
The document signed in Gaza is fundamentally no more than a letter of intent with no attempt to highlight divisions by trying to fill in these blanks. The signatories hope that their pact will survive better than pacts between the strong because it is the only life belt they have to cling to.
Of immediate concern is finding the money to fill their empty coffers and cover administration payrolls. For Western donors, one half of the unified Palestinian entity is a designated terrorist organization.
The Arab League secretary said Thursday, April 24, that Ramallah would be provided with a safety net if Washington and Jerusalem cut off funds.
Abbas dropped from the peace process loses international legitimacy
However, by allying himself with Hamas, Abu Mazen has not only alienated the West, but also the most important Arab League members, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Their energies are devoted to fighting the Muslim Brotherhood and are hardly likely to put up funds for its offspring Hamas and new partner.
Abbas’s action has also put a spanner in his application for Palestinian membership of a list of UN bodies in the capacity of an independent state. For as long as the Palestinian Authority was engaged in US-sponsored peace talks with Israel, his efforts gained a measure of international legitimacy. But now that Israel and the US have dropped him as a peace partner, he will meet a cold shoulder in many of the capitals which once made him welcome.
In any case, the peace process has long been more dead than alive. For months, it was kept going on artificial life support. This time, it looks as though it has given up the ghost for good.