Palestinians celebrate new Fatah-Hamas unity // Getty Images.
A few days ago, Israel was engaged in a bitter blame game with the Palestinians, with each side accusing the other of being responsible for sabotaging peace talks. Now, Israel is competing for recognition as the party that brought the flagging talks to an end.
The Palestinians aren’t prepared to extend talks beyond their deadline on Tuesday unless Israel fulfils certain criteria which the right-wing government is Jerusalem is set against, including a release of the Palestinian prisoners who were scheduled to be freed in late March and a building freeze.
But Jerusalem is apparently not content that the talks would come to an end because of Palestinian refusal to renew them, and announced yesterday that it is walking away. Israel declared that it is suspending talks, due to its fury about the reconciliation accord which the Palestinian Authority and its rival, Hamas, have just signed.
The declaration is strange. Israel is taking a principled stance not to take part in peace talks that aren’t happening. And on the grounds that rival Palestinian factions have signed a reconciliation pact, which they have done before only to fail to implement it.
And of the reconciliation does pan out, would silence not have served Israel better? By taking peace talks off the table in a scenario of real Palestinian unity, Israel has lifted from Hamas any real pressure to make tough decisions if it does make it in to a coalition within the Palestinian Authority. Is won’t need to respond to pressure from moderate Palestinians to be prepared to talk, because Israel will have closed the venue of talks.
Israel’s hardball response to Palestinian unity may play straight in to Hamas’ hands.
Hours after Operation Pillar of Defense came to an end last month, here at the Forward we published an article suggesting that the campaign could boost Hamas. It was early days, but new polling seems to indicate that this scenario is panning out.
The independent Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) has just published a survey conducted in the West Bank and Gaza which shows a “dramatic change in public attitude favoring Hamas.”
The more moderate Fatah party, the dominant faction in the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, normally leads in polls, but this one shows that if elections were held now in the West Bank and Gaza, voters would be pretty much evenly split between Fatah and Hamas.
The most remarkable finding of the poll is that if Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Fatah) went up against Ismail Haniyeh, Prime Minister of the Hamas regime in Gaza, Haniyeh would win. He would get 48% compared to Abbas’ 45%. Haniyeh would also win if jailed Fatah strongman Marwan Barghouti, long considered the most popular person in Palestinian politics, entered the race.
Interestingly, even though it doesn’t translate to support for Abbas, satisfaction with his performance has increased following the successful bid at the United Nations. Three months ago satisfaction with Abbas stood at 46%; it now stands at 54%. What does this show? That while the Palestinian public has been impressed by the UN bid, the perceived victory in Operation Pillar of Defense has impacted political consciousness more.
Is Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad on his way out? Jonathan Tobin certainly seems to think so. In a blog post for Commentary, where he is the editor, he posits that Fayyad’s approach to governance and to foreign affairs places him outside the Palestinian mainstream.
Citing Fayyad’s comments in an interview with the Jewish Chronicle of London, Tobin writes, “With this sort of a platform, he’d probably have an easier time getting elected to the Knesset than to the Palestinian parliament.”
Trouble is, Tobin offers no evidence of Fayyad’s unpopularity among his people and in fact, recent polling shows the opposite.
If you’ve been following the news in the American and international press, you’ve probably heard that the unity talks between Fatah and Hamas have reached a new and alarming phase. According to an Associated Press report that’s been widely reproduced, Hamas has agreed to join the Fatah-dominated umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization, the body that has been negotiating with Israel for the past 20 years, which “could have deep repercussions. Hamas has opposed the peace talks and rejects Israel’s right to exist. A strong Hamas voice in the group would further complicate the already troubled Mideast diplomatic process.” Not surprisingly, “Israeli officials reacted with alarm to the emerging agreement.”
But the Hebrew press is telling a different story. Both Haaretz and Ynet report—in their Hebrew versions only—that Hamas has agreed, as a condition of joining the PLO, to discontinue “armed struggle” against Israel and apparently has agreed to accept Palestinian statehood within the 1967 borders, alongside Israel.
The Ynet report quotes Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas directly, from an interview he gave to a Belgian television network a month ago, stating flatly that Hamas political secretary Khaled Meshaal had accepted both those conditions. The article appears in English translation on the Ynetnew.com website in a truncated version with the paragraph on Hamas peace concessions excised. Here’s what the original Hebrew version says: