Hamas, Fatah close in on reconciliation deal
Hamas agreed 'in principle' to an Egyptian proposal Monday that would give Palestinians a united front in peace talks with Israel.
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In addition to holding elections for the first time since January 2006, the Egyptian reconciliation proposal calls for the deployment a 3,000-man security force in the Gaza Strip – integrating both Hamas and Fatah forces – with Arab oversight. Also part of the proposal is a joint factional committee to coordinate between Hamas government in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank. It is unclear whether this would be an interim arrangement that would end with the formation of a Palestinian unity government.Skip to next paragraph
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Why Hamas is unlikely to hold elections soon
Speaking on background, Hamas members told the Monitor that they also want full freedom of movement to campaign in the West Bank, which they don't believe Mr. Abbas is prepared to give. Abbas' security forces have over the past year or more arrested hundreds of Hamas activists, they say, driving most Hamas activity underground.
Hamas is also demanding that it be "integrated" into the West Bank security apparatus, which is controlled by the PA with the assistance of US Gen. Keith Dayton. That makes Prof. Abusada doubt that Hamas is realistic about reaching a compromise deal.
"Hamas is saying that there has to be a restructuring not only the Gaza Strip but in the West Bank," says Mkhaimar Abusada, a political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. "They're saying the security forces there must be remade and to allow Hamas members to be in it, and this will be a big stumbling block on the way to an agreement. Neither Dayton nor the Israelis will accept it."
Moreover, he says, Hamas does not appear ready to have elections in the first half of next year, and has already been asking for a deferment.
"I don't think Hamas is ready to have elections anytime soon," says Abusada. "Hamas knows that its popularity has declined in the Palestinian street, and it won't get the 44 percent of the popular vote they won in 2006." Before agreeing to a date for elections, he says, Hamas wants to reach a major prisoner exchange deal – in return for Israel's kidnapped soldier, Gilad Shalit – as well as a loosening of the economic blockade on Gaza that is causing great hardships for most Gazans.
Fatah hopes Hamas 'isn't buying time'
Fatah, for its part, agreed to Egypt's proposal over a month ago. And Hamas, they charge, has been spinning its wheels and holding up progress.
"We are fed up with Hamas's procrastination. We have to get moving," complains Muheeb Awad, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council in Ramallah.
"If we are about to declare elections, we need time to prepare," he says. "We hope Hamas is truthful and isn't just buying time. We're very keen on reconciliation, and want our move forward."
• Safwat al-Kahlout contributed reporting from the Gaza Strip.