Thursday, February 08, 2007

Palestinians reach power-sharing deal

Prodded by Saudi Arabia and spooked by the prospect of a Palestinian civil war, Fatah and Hamas have finally agreed to a unity government.

The good news: As part of the deal, Hamas agreed to respect past peace agreements with Israel.

The bad news:

The United States and Israel have demanded the new government explicitly renounce violence, recognize Israel and agree to uphold past peace accords. The vague promise to respect past deals — a compromise reached after Hamas rejected pressure for more binding language — did not appear to go far enough.

U.S. and Israeli acceptance is crucial to the deal's success. Unless they are convinced Hamas has sufficiently moderated, the West is unlikely to lift a crippling financial blockade of the Palestinian government, and it will be difficult to advance the peace process.

The main bad news is that the "respect" language was a compromise, after Hamas rejected stronger language. That's a sign that Hamas is not yet prepared to do what needs to be done to reach a peace deal.

That said, actions are more important than words. The Israeli/U.S. position is reasonable and understandable, but they should not let insistence on the letter of the law get in the way of the spirit.

The new, unified government will Give Hamas the prime ministership and nine of 19 Cabinet posts. Fatah retains Abbas as president and gets six Cabinet posts. Four other posts go to independent parties, including the crucial interior ministry -- which controls the security forces -- and the foreign ministry.

A big test will come when Abbas seeks to reopen peace negotiations with Israel. Expecting Hamas to embrace the process is probably unrealistic. Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is that Hamas, while never publicly admitting a change of stance, will nonetheless let Abbas negotiate a deal that the unity government will ratify and both Fatah and Hamas will abide by. As long as such a deal is seen as binding on the Palestinians -- and a unity ratification would achieve that -- it shouldn't matter whether an individual party like Hamas ever formally accepts it. Breaking the deal would put them in violation of Palestinian law, and trigger severe sanctions.

As always, however, this is the Mideast. We just had a step forward; now it's time to wait and see if the next step will be forward or backward.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is the guy in the middle of the picture George Clooney?

2/09/2007 9:18 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

LOL. No, he's an exiled Hamas leader.

I wish there was a good way to attach captions to photos. I need to work on that.

2/09/2007 9:52 AM  

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