And the cracks are starting to show.
Disagreement on who should become the interim Palestinian prime minister now that Hamas and Fatah have decided to create a unity government is pulling their coming-together apart. A meeting that was supposed to take place in Cairo today between Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal was called off, reportedly because of Hamas’s opposition to appointing Salaam Fayyad, the current Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister.
A new date for the meeting has not been set, indefinitely postponing the creation of a unity government for the time being.
Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas (L) and Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah headed the last Palestinian unity government in 2007.
In another hint at the united Palestinian front falling apart, during an interview with the Lebanese television station LBC on Monday night Abbas said that he would reconsider presenting the bid for Palestinian state recognition at the UN in September if the United States facilitated a return to negotiations between Israel and the PA. Of the possibility of a third intifada, “Armed struggle is destroying us,” Abbas said. It makes one wonder why he joined in on an agreement with a Palestinian group whose mission is the destruction of Israel through armed struggle.
Abbas also noted during the conversation that he has the authority to choose the interim Palestinian leader and form a government that represents his policies – a statement denounced by Hamas.
Meanwhile, in a meeting on Monday the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean voted unanimously on a measure calling on Hamas to accept the Quartet’s conditions, being renunciation of violence, recognition of Israel, and accepting past Israel-PLO agreements. The assembly of 23 states – including Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and the PA – also called for a return to negotiations.
Abbas’s attempt at uniting the Palestinian front is about to fail, and both Israel and Washington should make the most of this situation. They can do so by agreeing to enter into talks with Abbas only once he concedes to certain terms, such as ending his bid to seek Palestinian state recognition at the UN and agreeing to negotiate even if Israeli settlement construction continues.
If Abbas does come back to the negotiating table, the ball will be in Israel’s, and perhaps even more so, Washington’s, court for the first time in years. The next move must be made strategically.