Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Toameh - Hamas and Fatah: The Unity Government That Isn't - and Won't Be

Khaled Abu Toameh
Hudson New York
29 November '11

Each time Fatah and Hamas announce that they are close to ending their dispute, the Palestinians quickly discover that the two rival parties are not telling the truth.

In many ways, the status quo is not all bad for Fatah and Hamas. The two parties have, in fact, a common interest in maintaining the status quo for as long as ever.

For Fatah, which is in control of large parts of the West Bank, the situation could not be better. Thanks to continued American and EU financial aid, the economy in the West Bank is relatively good, and tens of thousands of Palestinian Authority civil servants are receiving their salaries on time.

Those who think that Fatah is dying to go back to the Gaza Strip are deluding themselves. Since it was thrown out of the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2007, Fatah is no longer being held responsible for what goes on in that area. The Fatah leadership is no longer being blamed for the rocket and missile attacks launched from the Gaza Strip, and no one is accusing Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad of failing to improve the living conditions of the 1.5 million Palestinians living there.

Before 2007, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority was held responsible for everything that went wrong in the Gaza Strip, including terror attacks against Israel. Fatah is no longer being held responsible for the poverty or the smuggling of weapons into the Gaza Strip through underground tunnels from Egypt. Fatah is now sitting in the West Bank and benefiting from the millions of dollars that are being poured into its coffers every month.

Ironically, Israel's security presence in the West Bank is one of the main reasons why Abbas and Fayyad are still in power. The Fatah leaders know that the day Israel withdraws from the West Bank, Hamas will become so strong that it will seize control of the area in a matter of days or weeks.

For Hamas, on the other hand, the status quo is good because the Islamist movement continues to control the Gaza Strip without facing real challenges. Five years of economic sanctions, blockades and military operations have failed to undermine Hamas's tight grip on the Gaza Strip.

The "Arab Spring," which appears to have been hijacked by the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies in the Arab world, as well as the recent prisoner exchange agreement with Israel, have only bolstered Hamas's standing among its constituents in the Gaza Strip.

Both Fatah and Hamas have their own governments and security forces in the areas under their control in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. They even have their own prisons, where they hold and torture each other's detainees.

While Abbas and Fayyad are receiving money from the Americans and Europeans, Hamas has been getting financial aid from Iran and some Gulf countries.

Both Fatah and Hamas know that unity means loosing the financial backing of their patrons in the West and Tehran and the Arab world. That is why they are not in a rush to strike any deal to form a unity government. Who needs such a government when the Palestinians already have two governments?

Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal have twice lied to the Palestinians in the past six months.

The first time was in May, when the two men announced in Cairo that they had reached a "historic" reconciliation agreement to end their differences and form a unity government. The second time was last week, when they met once again in the Egyptian capital and declared that they had agreed to open a new page in their relations and work as partners.

Many Palestinians remain skeptical about the intentions of Fatah and Hamas. They know that the two parties would rather preserve the status quo than risk losing financial aid because of a unity government. As far as Hamas and Fatah are concerned, two Palestinian states are better than one.

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