Fatah and Hamas - starting a fruitful dialogue ?

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 25-Mar-08 | Author: Nadim Koteich

Hamas' deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk, left, and Azzam al-Ahmed, deputy prime minister and leader of Fatah lawmakers in the Palestinian parliament, right, speak to the media after the two Palestinian factions signed a statement entitled the 'San'a Declaration' at the Presidential Palace in San'a,

One day after the Yemeni brokered declaration between PA president Mahmoud Abbas's Fatah and Hamas, the agrrement was dismissed by the two rival Palestinian factions.

Accordingly, Fatah said that its envoy, head of its parliamentary block Azzam Alahmad, had signed the agreement only due to a "mix-up" and lack of coordination, while Hamas officials downplayed its importance.

It was unlikely for the Sanna Declaration to bare fruits, such as ending the stand-off between the two factions.

Announcing the agreement, the Yemeni statement lumped both sides' demands in on paragraph. "The two movements, Hamas and Fatah have agreed to accept the Yemeni initiative as a framework for dialogue (…) and a return of the Palestinian situation to what it was before the events in Gaza," it said, leaving it to the devils of the two factions to squabble over details.

However, as the first direct talks since Hamas had bloodily seized the Gaza Strip nine months ago, it was a success for the Islamic faith-based movement.

First and for most, Hamas pulled down a psychological wall that was carefully cemented after Hamas's coup in July 2007. Abbas had, since, stubbornly faced every single effort to patch things up between him and Hamas with the precondition that the Islamic militant group have to step aside in Gaza and abide by the legitimacy of the PA authority. Couple of weeks after Hamas's military takeover of Gaza Abbas didn't attend a trio summit in Jordan with the Saudi and Jordanian Monarchs due to claimed security reasons. In reality Abbas was avoiding the huge Saudi pressure on him. King Abdullah's argued, then, that the Palestinians should put aside their difference because their infighting will only benefit Israel and harm the Arab peace initiative.

Commenting on signing the agreement, Yasser Abed Rabbo, a top PLO official closely associated with Abbas, said "We don't want dialogue for the sake of dialogue" adding, "this will only result in more confusion and consolidate the Hamas coup in the Gaza Strip. We will end up evolving in a vicious cycle."

Second, the "mix-up" portrayed Abbas as holding his authority with a loose grip. Chief PA negotiator Ahmed Qurei said the Fatah representative had acted on his own when he signed the agreement with Hamas. He said Al-Ahmed couldn't reach Abbas for approval because the PA president was meeting with US Vice President Dick Cheney.
Open exchanges, however, between Al-Ahmad and several PLO officials serve as a reminder of the divisions and power struggle among Fatah persons. Dismissing Al-Ahmad's decision Nabil Amr, another adviser of Abbas, said "the signing of the agreement had caused confusion among the Palestinians".
On the other hand Hamas legislator Salah Bardaweel didn't miss the opportunity to highlight divisions within the Palestinian Authority saing that "not all of Abbas's top advisers were opposed to the agreement".

Third, adding insult to injury, Fatah's waffling on the agreement coincided with condemnations to it from the US and Israel. US Vice-President Dick Cheney said "my conclusion, from talking with the Palestinian leadership, is that they have established preconditions which would have to be fulfilled before they would ever agree to a reconciliation, including a complete reversal of the Hamas takeover of Gaza."

On the Israeli side a senior official was quoted as saying "we are sending a clear message to [Mr Abbas] that he can't dance at two weddings at the same time. He can either have the Annapolis peace process to try and get an agreement by the end of the year, or a coalition with Hamas."
This sequence rendered Abbas's image to a puppet in the hands of Israelis and Americans. Hamas Bardaweel, wasting no chance to affirm this image, said "the Americans and Israelis don't want an end to the crisis."

Be it a mix-up, a mistake or an experimental balloon, Fatah had too much to loose due to sitting with Hamas, while the latter moved one step further to legitimize its coup in particular and the coup-based politics in general.