By Shimon Z. Klein 

Once again violence has flared up between Hamas and Fatah. This has occurred despite the Mecca Agreement of last month. This further proves the inability of Hamas and Fatah to form a National Unity Government. The rift between the two parties is too deep for any long term reconciliation. Even if there is a period of relative calm between the two parties, as was the case just after the signing of the Mecca Agreements, the chances of it lasting is very remote indeed. This makes the situation even more complicated (as if it is not complicated enough already!). While this instability continues, the chance of President Mahmoud Abbas negotiating a peace agreement with Israel is poor.

An indication of the increased violence between the two sides occurred today when Palestinian militants attacked a Hamas minister’s car in W. Bank. This comes on the eve of a meeting between President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli PM Ehud Olmert. One of the conditions for reducing the economic pressure on the Palestinians is a promise by Abbas to release Gilad Shalit, the kidnapped Israeli soldier. PM Olmert holds Abbas responsible for the kidnapping and his release. However, Olmert’s claim of Abbas’s responsibility for the safety and release of Shalit is unrealistic. Abbas is unable to control the situation in Gaza. Logically, as president of the Palestinian Authority he is responsible but in practice that is far from the case.


The whole idea of negotiating with President Abbas seems rather unrealistic as he is unable to promise anything. He has problems with Hamas who are uncompromising as far as recognizing Israel’s right to exist is concerned. However, despite this there are some tentative signs that Hamas is prepared to accept a cease-fire and cessation of terror. There seems to be some attempt on their part to achieve a cease-fire. Perhaps it is still early to say that this is the beginning of the road to recognition of Israel by Hamas. The fact that Hamas and Fatah, in a rare show of a semblance of unity, agree that they both support Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ bid to extend the cease-fire with Israel from Gaza to the West Bank, but Islamic Jihad does not agree, Haaretz has learned.

Abbas nevertheless plans to propose an expanded cease-fire to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at their meeting on Sunday 11th March 2007, in exchange for Israeli noninterference with the Palestinian unity government that is due to be formed next week – including not urging Western countries to boycott it.
Abbas has also made an appeal to Olmert to release prisoners and clarify his attitude towards a unity government. Olmert, however, has announced that Israel will boycott any Fatah ministers who will participate in the unity government, unless such a government adheres to the three prerequisites put forth by the international Quartet, namely recognition of Israel, relinquishing violence and accepting previous accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization.
It remains to be seen if this will be the case. It seems doubtful at this stage.
One day ahead of his Sunday meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas extended by two weeks the deadline for Ismail Haniyeh to form the unity government.

He and Haniyeh have met several times over the past week, and Abbas said on Thursday that the government was 99 percent ready and predicted a final agreement within days.

But that was before the latest bout of violence on Saturday.

The attack on the convoy of Minister of Prison Affairs, Wasfi Kabha, in the village of Tubas north of Nablus left one of Kabha’s bodyguards injured. Two of the attackers were also injured in the shootout and another two were arrested, security sources said.

Kabha’s ministry denounced the attack, which it called “a cowardly act that violates the national values and morality.”

A Hamas statement pointed the finger at Abbas’s Fatah faction.

“The people who fired at the minister are from the ranks of Fatah,” the statement said.

Palestinian law allowed Haniyeh three weeks to form a new cabinet after the outgoing government stepped down on February 15, but it also gives Abbas the power to extend that deadline for another two weeks.

“Prime minister Ismail Haniyeh asked Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in a phone call yesterday (Friday) to extend the deadline to form a unity government… and the president agreed to allow two additional weeks to the prime minister-designate,” Hamas government spokesman Ghazi Hamad said in a statement.

Under the terms of the power-sharing agreement reached in Saudi Arabia last month, Hamas will occupy nine cabinet seats plus the premiership and their rivals Fatah will take six.

Hamas will nominate another three “independent” ministers and Fatah two. The democratically elected movement will also name an interior minister whose candidature must be approved by Abbas.

The meeting scheduled between Olmert and Abbas will be another meeting that will not achieve much. Both leaders are shunned by the Israeli and Palestinian electorate respectively. Olmert has personal problems with the state comptroller over the conduct of the Lebanese war and his credibility is low. Support for Abbas is also low and he has the shadow of Palestinian militants holding him back from making any agreements with Israel.





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