Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Update on Hamas

Further to my remarks on Hamas, here is Rob Malley of the International Crisis Group (and formerly adviser in the Clinton administration):
The [June 25] document reflects a significant step forward for Hamas, but there is no mistaking it for a peace platform. It does not recognize Israel, and reaffirms the rights of resistance as well as return. The Quartet got something that it should acknowledge and respond to; it did not get what it was asking for.
—August 24, 2006
(A New Middle East, 21 September 2006, The New York Review of Books)
Malley sums up the previous 5 months thus (my emphasis, to show the hidden motives of some):
Unwilling to accept the outcome of the elections, Fatah officials alternatively blamed it on the electoral system they had themselves devised or on internal divisions for which they were responsible. Not wasting any time, they started looking for ways to reverse it. Within hours of the results, they were considering whether President Mahmoud Abbas could legally dissolve parliament and call for new elections (he can't); they also considered whether he could declare a state of emergency and suspend parliament (he can, but only temporarily), or otherwise cut short Hamas's time in office. Some in Fatah contemplated a military confrontation; if it had to occur, they reasoned, it was better that it happen before the Islamists consolidated their power.

Fatah officials early on rejected suggestions of a national unity government, fearing it would only strengthen Hamas, allowing Hamas to benefit from Fatah's international legitimacy without paying the price Fatah had paid to achieve it. Publicly bemoaning the West's policy toward Hamas, Fatah leaders privately supported that policy, encouraging the US and EU to maintain their three conditions for resuming donor aid. With US help, they hoped to establish a channel of communication between President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert in order to circumvent and marginalize Hamas. And they discreetly promoted subtle forms of insubordination by civil servants who, deprived of salaries, hardly needed encouragement. Hamas has won power but cannot exercise it. The Islamists do not have the funds to pay the civil servants - who did not intend to take orders from them in the first place.

Pressure on Hamas has emanated from other sources. Members of the Quartet [..] halted their assistance until the new government meets its three conditions while Israel both withheld tax revenues it collects on the PA's behalf and impeded movement within the occupied territories as well as trade with them. The goal seemed clear: squeeze the government, arouse popular dissatisfaction with its performance, find ways to strengthen President Abbas, and ensure that Hamas's days in power would come to a rapid and unsuccessful end. Hardly pleased with the emergence of an Islamist government, let alone through democratic elections, Arab governments discreetly shared these objectives.
Update: on Monday (11 Sept), what came over on the news was that, while Hamas would not recognize Israel, it might be part of a government that would do so and this could be the basis for progress.

On Tuesday, Tony Blair, British Prime Minister, said:
Yesterday's announcement of a government of national unity in Palestine is precisely what I hoped for. On the basis it is faithful to the conditions spelled out by the quartet - the UN, EU, US and Russia - we should lift the economic sanctions on the Palestinian Authority and be prepared to deal with the government, the whole government. (Speech to the TUC). 
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