Missing the Big Picture on a Palestinian Unity Government (UPDATE)
Even though Abbas has formed a “unity government” with Hamas, Hamas is saying that one part is non-negotiable:
Hamas will not agree to form a unity government that does not include a ministry and minister for prisoners’ affairs, a spokesman said Monday.
Sami Abu Zuhri told Ma’an that Hamas has officially notified Fatah that the movement will not join a government that does not include a ministry of prisoners.
“Hamas movement won’t agree to announce a unity government without a ministry and a minister of prisoners, and Fatah has already been notified of that irrevocable decision.”
Related coverageJune 30, 2016 3:51 pm
Abbas had earlier said that the ministry of prisoners would be replaced with an independent body, with other officials suggesting that the US could withdraw funding from the PA if the ministry was not dissolved.
The unity government is expected to be sworn in on Monday at 1 p.m. in the presidential headquarters in Ramallah.
Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya confirms this in Felesteen.
The idea that the U.S. is pressuring Abbas over the ministry of prisoners seems new. I have not seen anything about that before; on the contrary I have seen more pressure from the EU about how the PA has been spending significant parts of its budget on paying prisoners, families of prisoners, and families of “martyrs” – something that is sacrosanct, even if it is ultimately from Western funding.
Yet the EU does not seem to have a problem with Hamas as part of the “unity” government. Hamas and Fatah are trying to have it both ways – to have the PR benefits of unity internally along with assurances to the West that the government accepts all previous agreements, while Hamas continues to say in Arabic that they reject all previous agreements with Israel.
What the media (and, apparently, western officials) keeps missing is that the PA is an almost useless construct. It officially reports to the PLO, not to the people. The PLO is anything but democratic. The PLO is what makes all the major decisions. And while the PA has a “foreign minister,” his duties are essentially ceremonial, as the PLO takes that entire role with Abbas, Erekat, and others. Look at the webpage of the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department: they are the ones who are making the real decisions that the West cares about, not the ministers being announced today.
The PLO-NAD decides every major issue that the world cares about: security, settlements, Jerusalem, refugees, borders, water, economic relations, compensation, agriculture, tourism, health, transport, energy, telecommunications, and even archaeology.
The important part of the unity agreement with Hamas isn’t the appointment of technocrats in the PA. They have been carefully chosen not to give offense to the West and to get the EU and U.S. to look the other way as Hamas gets mainstreamed.
The important part is phase 2, where Hamas joins the PLO. This will challenge the current doubletalk from the PLO of accepting Israel – doubletalk because Fatah supports terror against Israel just about to the same level that Hamas does. That is where the real political battle between the two groups will get very ugly, at least in private.
Yasser Arafat is smiling from his special place in hell, seeing how well his people have adopted his methods of telling the West what they want to hear and actively supporting terror at the same time. As we have seen, wishful thinking often trumps Western will. The real question isn’t whether the new government supports terror – both Fatah and Hamas do even as they choose bland officials to pretend to be running their government.
The real question is whether the U.S. and EU can see through the lies.
UPDATE: Get used to these sorts of things happening. Ma’an in English:
No minister for prisoners’ affairs was announced, despite having been a key sticking point in reaching consensus on minister portfolios.
Shawki Alissa named minister of prisoner affairs.