Thursday, February 22, 2007

Hamas's Victory: From Gaza to Mecca

From Washington Institue for Near East Policy, PolicyWatch #1200, by Mohammad Yaghi, February 16, 2007 ....

As recently as December, Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas refused to back a proposal for a unity government offered by Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) member and head of the Independent Palestine list Mustafa Barghouti. That deal was based on the concept of a technocratic compromise under which Hamas officials would not have held the prime ministership or led any ministries. Yet under the terms of the February 8 Mecca accord, the current prime minister, Hamas's Ismail Haniyeh, will stay on as head of the next government, and the only portfolios Hamas members specifically will not hold are the finance, foreign affairs, and interior ministries, which will be headed by independents acceptable to both sides. The key question then is why Fatah settled for a unity agreement in February that provided it far less gains than previous unity proposals rejected by Abbas.

Fatah's Scare
While the Mecca accord may be interpreted as a mutual effort between Hamas and Fatah to stop intra-Palestinian violence in Gaza, a closer examination of the most recent clashes suggests that Hamas came away the winner and Fatah had to sue for peace.

Fighting between Fatah and Hamas reached an unprecedented level of intensity after a roadside bomb killed two members of Hamas's Executive Force in Jabalya on January 25. Since that incident, most of the clashes pitted Hamas's Executive Force, and Izzadin al-Qassam Brigades against Fatah's Preventive Security Organization, Presidential Guards, General Intelligence Service forces, and elements of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades associated with Fatah leader and legislative council member Momammed Dahlan. For the most part, the national security forces -- the police -- avoided the confrontations and attempted to remain neutral, fearing revenge killings to their families or because Hamas had already penetrated their ranks.

Fatah's forces suffered from internal divisions and rivalries among their leaderships. ....Unable to unite its forces under a coherent leadership, Fatah suffered greatly during the fighting after January 25. ....

For the members of Fatah engaged in the fighting, the intervention of Saudi King Abdullah came at an opportune moment that surely prevented additional losses on the ground. ....It is unlikely that this group would have accepted a unity agreement with Hamas were it not for the substantial losses suffered by Fatah in the fighting since January 25.

Comprehensive Gains for Hamas
Fatah's defeats on the ground enabled Hamas to score most of the gains from the Mecca accord. ... Hamas had to modify none of its political program to reach the unity agreement -- as indicated by subsequent statements from its spokesmen that Hamas will never recognize Israel.
Beyond retaining its political program unchanged, Hamas advanced many components of its long-term strategy of wresting control of the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from Fatah....

[go to the full article to read a detailed analysis of these gains]

....As it stands, the agreement spells significant gains for Hamas politically, institutionally, bureaucratically, and in its relations with the Arab world. It is likely that Abbas and Hamas together will still attempt to use the Mecca accord as a means of alleviating the Quartet's sanctions by claiming the government has accepted its conditions ....

The Mecca accord will not end the struggle between Fatah and Hamas to dominate the Palestinian political system, but it does represent an effort to gain a respite from the violence by dividing the PA according to each faction's current position on the ground.

Mohammad Yaghi is a Lafer international fellow with The Washington Institute and a columnist for the Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.

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