Pales­tinian fac­tions reach unity deal

Ini­tial ac­cord set­tles Gaza Strip con­trol but doesn’t dis­arm Ha­mas, a non-starter for Is­rael.

Los Angeles Times - - THE WORLD - By Noga Tarnopol­sky Tarnopol­skly is a spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent.

JERUSALEM — Amid fan­fare and em­braces, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the ri­val Pales­tinian fac­tions Fatah and Ha­mas, af­ter a decade at log­ger­heads, signed a pre­lim­i­nary agree­ment Thurs­day to re­unify and share con­trol and lead­er­ship of the Gaza Strip.

The im­ages of an ex­u­ber­ant Salah Aruri, deputy head of Ha­mas, and se­nior Fatah leader Az­zam Ah­mad re­joic­ing at the head­quar­ters of the Egyp­tian in­tel­li­gence agency in Cairo pro­vided a stark con­trast to im­ages of the bloody civil war that tore a shaky Pales­tinian unity govern­ment apart 10 years ago.

This is the fourth time since the orig­i­nal Pales­tinian unity govern­ment fell apart in 2007 that Ha­mas and Fatah have an­nounced a re­uni­fi­ca­tion. The last time they met in Cairo, in 2011, a unity agree­ment was cer­e­mo­ni­ally an­nounced only to im­me­di­ately col­lapse.

The stakes are higher now be­cause the deal could ease dire hu­man­i­tar­ian con­di­tions in the Gaza Strip and pave the way for fur­ther talks, but it does not ad­dress sig­nif­i­cant is­sues — such as the fu­ture of Ha­mas’ armed mili­tia — that have stymied ear­lier at­tempts at a union.

In an at­tempt to lever­age its power against Ha­mas, Fatah in re­cent months im­posed se­vere sanc­tions that have in­cluded halt­ing the pay­ment of salaries to govern­ment of­fi­cials in Gaza and re­duc­ing elec­tri­cal power to only four hours a day. Th­ese mea­sures are ex­pected to be im­me­di­ately re­voked.

On Wed­nes­day, Ha­mas leader Is­mail Haniyeh said that this time, “we’ll go to any length to im­ple­ment the agree­ment and turn over a new leaf in the an­nals of our peo­ple, for­ever clos­ing the book on our di­vi­sions.”

Pales­tinian Author­ity Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas said the ac­cord was a “fi­nal agree­ment to end di­vi­sion,” and his of­fice guard­edly an­nounced that, for the first time in 10 years, Ab­bas would visit Gaza in the com­ing month.

Fatah, which is rec­og­nized by the United States and Europe and which has rep­re­sented the Pales­tini­ans in peace talks with Is­rael, and Ha­mas, an Is­lamist mili­tia that the U.S., Euro­pean Union and Is­rael clas­sify as a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, have not worked to­gether since the split, when Ha­mas forcibly took power in the Gaza Strip af­ter con­tested elec­tions.

In an­nounc­ing the deal it bro­kered, the Egyp­tian govern­ment said Fatah would take over all govern­ment author­ity in Gaza by Dec. 1, in­clud­ing the all-im­por­tant su­per­vi­sion of Gaza’s bor­ders with Egypt and Is­rael, which have been all but sealed for the last decade, leav­ing 2 mil­lion peo­ple liv­ing un­der siege.

A state­ment re­leased by Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu’s of­fice said, “Is­rael will mon­i­tor de­vel­op­ments in the field and act ac­cord­ingly.”

“Any rec­on­cil­i­a­tion between the Pales­tinian Author­ity and Ha­mas must be in com­pli­ance with in­ter­na­tional agree­ments, with the Quar­tet’s con­di­tions, and first and fore­most must in­clude recog­ni­tion of Is­rael and the dis­arm­ing of Ha­mas,” it read. The quar­tet is com­posed of the United States, the Euro­pean Union, the United Na­tions and Rus­sia, which to­gether have me­di­ated the Is­raeli-Pales­tinian peace process.

“On­go­ing tun­nel dig­ging, man­u­fac­ture of mis­siles and the launch of ter­ror at­tacks against Is­rael do not con­form to the Quar­tet’s con­di­tions and to Amer­i­can ef­forts to re­new the peace process,” the state­ment said.

As dark­ness fell Thurs­day, Gazans took to the streets to re­joice. But the specter of Ha­mas’ heav­ily armed mili­tia of 25,000 men co­ex­ist­ing with the 3,000 mem­bers of Ab­bas’ pres­i­den­tial guard who, ac­cord­ing to the agree­ment, will be sent to Gaza to pro­tect the bor­ders, is hard to van­quish.

Vet­eran Pales­tinian leg­is­la­tor Mustafa Bargh­outi, who leads the cen­trist Pales­tinian Na­tional Ini­tia­tive, said in an in­ter­view that, though the deal rep­re­sents “a nec­es­sary en­try point with­out which the Pales­tinian peo­ple could not move for­ward, the most im­por­tant is­sues re­main.”

The com­ing month, he said, “will be the most im­por­tant test” of the two fac­tions’ abil­ity to gov­ern to­gether, as they de­vise pro­ce­dures for the new coali­tion, set a date and con­di­tions for long-post­poned Pales­tinian na­tional elec­tions, and come to an agree­ment on “in­ter­nal se­cu­rity mat­ters.”

Pre­cisely coun­ter­ing Is­rael’s de­mands — and un­til now, the con­di­tions set by Ab­bas, who has said he will not ac­cept Ha­mas as a sep­a­rate mili­tia such as Le­banon’s Hezbol­lah — Bargh­outi said that “dis­arm­ing Ha­mas is not on the ta­ble. It has not been on the ta­ble, and it will not be on the ta­ble un­til the end of oc­cu­pa­tion and it is dis­cussed as part of se­cu­rity in fi­nal sta­tus ne­go­ti­a­tions with Is­rael.”

Re­gard­ing Ha­mas’ sta­tus as a ter­ror­ist or­ga­ni­za­tion, Bargh­outi said, “It is up to them to think what they want. Ha­mas is part of the Pales­tinian peo­ple and is ob­vi­ously a party to this deal.” He ex­pressed hope that their rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the Pales­tinian govern­ment “will not cre­ate any se­ri­ous re­sis­tance from the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.”

Ma­jdi Khaldi, Ab­bas’ diplo­matic ad­vi­sor, pre­ferred to de­scribe the sit­u­a­tion in softer terms.

Ab­bas re­mains com­mit­ted to lead­ing a uni­fied Pales­tinian govern­ment, he said, us­ing Ab­bas’ muchused for­mula of “one govern­ment, one law, one gun.”

“Pres­i­dent Ab­bas’ de­mand is to have one gun un­der the govern­ment. This is what we are aim­ing for and Egypt is fa­cil­i­tat­ing, and we’ll see what will come in the fu­ture,” he said.

“The de­mand will never be with­drawn, but we are not here to dis­arm any­one. We are here to con­trol all as­pects of life in Gaza, and this in­cludes arms, the law, a full takeover. It will be the same as in the West Bank,” where the Pales­tinian govern­ment rules.

Mah­mud Hams AFP/Getty Im­ages

PALES­TINI­ANS in Gaza City cel­e­brate a pre­lim­i­nary re­uni­fi­ca­tion deal between Ha­mas and Fatah, which have been spar­ring since 2007.

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