The Middle East Bazaar’s Dernier Cri: A Palestinian Unity Government
Mahmoud Abbas, who carries the formal title of President of the Palestinian Authority, is pushing hard for a government coalition between his own Fatah and the ruling Hamas. The incentive for Hamas’ prime minister Ismail Haniyeh is the prospect of an escape from the international boycott and aid embargo dogging his government. But extremist supreme leader Khaled Meshaal who is based in Damascus is unlikely to let him run very far.
There is much more in it for Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, who hopes to dissolve the Hamas government before week’s end. Since the Islamists took over government last February, Abbas’ grip on the Palestinian territories has loosened and his Fatah activists, especially in Gaza, are being quietly knocked off by Hamas terminators.
After months of futile palaver with the Hamas prime minister, Abbas is now clutching at a rope handed him by Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and foreign minister Tzipi Livni. They decided it was time to talk to Abu Mazen after they made a botch of the Lebanon war and their peace advances to the Siniora government were roundly snubbed.
With this card in hand, Abbas turned to Ismail Haniyeh with a new proposition: If I can face the UN General Assembly in New York in a few days time and announce the formation of a Palestinian national unity government, I believe it will be possible with the help of the European nations contributing to the UN force in Lebanon to get the international community to lift the economic boycott hanging over our heads.
How can this be done? Haniyeh asked.
Abbas answered: The Olmert government is in poor shape since the Lebanon war and may be more amenable than before to steps that re-energize diplomatic momentum on the Palestinian issue. The Europeans, he explained, will welcome any moves that translate their Lebanon project into influence beyond its borders, such as peacekeeping in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
The Bush administration, furthermore, is at a low point, said Abu Mazen, mainly because of the Iraq situation and Israel’s performance in Lebanon. Therefore, he said, if we, the Palestinians, are seen to be the only force in the region with a plan for generating diplomatic motion, everyone, including Israel, will lend a hand.
Abbas is perfectly aware that the Hamas prime minister is in dire straits, even more than the other parties. debkafile reported on Sept. 5 that Haniyeh’s chief in Damascus has decided to send him packing for defying orders to unleash a massive terrorist and missile attack on southern Israel to coincide with Hizballah’s rocket onslaught on Galilee. To this end, Meshaal is starving Haniyeh’s government of operating funds.
The Hamas prime minister therefore thought he could put Abbas’s offer of a Hamas-Fatah partnership in government to good use as an ultimatum to Meshaal: Restore the suitcases of cash to Gaza or I’ll go in with Abu Mazen. The issue is still unresolved. Hamas spokesmen do not say Haniyeh has accepted the Fatah leader’s offer outright, only that he is “considering” acceptance of a plan whose details remain to be settled.
Meanwhile, debkafile‘s Middle East sources note, the European, Israeli, Lebanese and Palestinian stalls in the Middle East bazaar are busy bandying a new high-end product: Hamas’ willingness to indirectly recognize Israel, an item as insubstantial as gossamer. Buying and selling is brisk.
All of a sudden, last week’s hot item, the doings of the expanded UNIFIL force deployed in Lebanon, is passe. Little notice is paid to the stalemate in exchanges with the Lebanese government on the international troops’ terms of operation, rules of engagement and the areas under its control.
The process was struck dead Sunday, Sept 10 when Damascus and Hizballah said the UN deployment was finished. Any new arrivals wouldl be targeted.
Yet UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, prime minister Olmert and the European governments which have posted troops to Lebanon insist the deployment is a smash success.
As for Abu Mazen, he knows the unity government is a non-starter because it would carry with it only a small group of Hamas leaders and leave the Islamist movement fatally split. The military arm ruled by Meshaal, Damascus and Tehran would soon eliminate Haniyeh as a renegade.
But when he looks around him, Abbas sees no reason why he too should not try and hawk non-existent merchandize like everyone else. After all, last Saturday, Sept. 9, Italian prime minister Romano Prodi announced Syrian presidential consent to the stationing of European monitors on the Lebanese-Syrian border – until Damascus officials flatly contradicted him.
Next came EU foreign affairs executive Javier Solana, who heralded progress on the uranium enrichment impasse after meeting the Iranian nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani.
Before leaving Ramallah, UK premier Tony Blair announced a breakthrough in the Israel-Palestinian dispute. Next day, Ehud Olmert declared the moribund Middle East roadmap alive.
The chances of all these myths solving any Middle East conflicts are negligible, but they do serve to keep the myth-spinners in the headlines – and in power.