Fatah-Hamas leadership dispute could jeopardize Palestinian statehood campaign
Fatah and Hamas are meeting in Cairo today to choose the leader of the Palestinian unity government. But strong disagreements could derail their reconciliation pact.
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That Fatah nominated Fayyad as its candidate despite Hamas's well-known opposition to his leadership is a sign that Fatah may not be willing to take the steps to make reconciliation happen, Tony Karon writes in Time.Skip to next paragraph
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Fayyad, an independent, is loathed by Hamas and is not popular even in Fatah; he was appointed, largely at the behest of the United States as part of a program to bypass the elected structures of Palestinian government, after Hamas was voted in as the ruling party in the Palestinian Legislative Council in 2006. Fayyad was a key figure in a plan to isolate Gaza and build up an authoritarian development-oriented regime in the West Bank as an alternative. Even today, he owes his place in the Palestinian power structure less to any popular support base than on the favor he enjoys among the donors on which the PA depends. And the fact that he's being put forward again, risking a showdown with Hamas on a unity agreement that was demanded by the base, is a sign of how difficult the Palestinian leadership is finding the idea of breaking with business as usual.
The Jerusalem Post and Israeli news source Ynet are both reporting that a Hamas senior official told pan-Arab newspaper Al Hayat that Hamas would respond to the selection of Fayyad by naming Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh as their top pick for leading the unity government. Al Ahram reports, however, that the top candidate for Hamas is Jamal El Khodary, who leads the committee working to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip.
Hamas officials say that Fayyad's nomination was presented to them as an ultimatum and runs counter to the plan in the reconciliation agreement for the two parties to decide on a consensus candidate after they submit their nominations for the position, according to the Post. The Palestinian Authority rebuffed the accusation.
Reconciliation between the groups has gained urgency ahead of an anticipated United Nations vote in September to recognize a Palestinian state. If Palestinians cannot reach an agreement on an interim government soon, it won't matter whether Israel manages to thwart the statehood vote, because it is unlikely to go through, Karon writes in Time.
If Hamas stands its ground on Fayyad and the issue becomes a breaking points in the unity agreement, that would be a portent of what to expect on the U.N. vote – it would mean that when push came to shove, Abbas was unwilling to rupture relations with Washington. In which case, the Israelis wouldn't really need a strategy to head off a UN vote on Palestinian statehood.