Deal or no deal: Will the Gaza agreement actually result in a real unity government?
The recent Gaza agreement on Palestinian reconciliation has raised many questions about each of its seven clauses, rather than bringing closure to Palestinians’ feelings of anxiety and frustration following persistent internal division. These questions come amid doubts of any tangible results arising from the Gaza announcement—never mind the eventual formation of a national consensus government.
Palestinians consider “success” to mean rebuilding a Palestinian national unity organization through Palestinian Authority institutions and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). This includes reimagining political representation for all Palestinians, as well as the rules that govern relations between the various factions in the Palestinian political arena.
Given the implicit hopes Palestinians have for this reconciliation, three chief observations can be made regarding the articles of the Gaza announcement: The first is that it perpetuates the lack of mutual understanding of basic tenets reflected in the Cairo Agreement signed on May 4, 2011. The second is that the agreement does not include clear implementation mechanisms or specific timetables for the most prominent issues that remain a source of contention, such as elections, the role of the legislative council, and the powers of the committee to “activate and develop” the PLO. The third is that the announcement ignores the most prominent contentious issues, first and foremost of which is that there must be consensus on the national agenda, which is the third pillar of the equation: one entity, one leadership, one platform.
The Gaza announcement consists of seven articles, six of which depend on the first article, which reaffirms the parties’ commitment to the Cairo Agreement and its conclusions as well the Doha Declaration, which is considered to be the reference for implementation. Within this first article lies a huge problem surrounding disputes and varying interpretations of articles essential to the Cairo Agreement. It is not fit to be a reference for implementation unless it is subjected to a dialogue that results in one unified interpretation of these articles. The differing interpretations of the Cairo Agreement and the Doha Declaration must be resolved as well.
Perhaps the most striking example of this is the lack of consensus on the tasks of the national reconciliation government, which ignores the Gaza announcement completely, only providing for consultations based on the Cairo Agreement and the Doha Declaration in order to form the government. The first specifies a set of tasks for the government, including the unification of institutions of power, while the second specifies only two tasks for the government, namely the facilitation of presidential and legislative elections and the reconstruction of Gaza.
Uncertainty has prevailed after the signing of the Gaza announcement, as it is not clear whether the government will take over the tasks of reunifying and restructuring civil institutions and security as well as supervising implementation of the recommendations about community reconciliation. These committees have been invited to resume their work—which had been suspended for quite a while now—and can announce specific measures. If they do not, their tasks will be left until after the presidential and legislative elections—perhaps resulting in a situation where circumstances do not allow for elections to be conducted in the first place.
There are still unanswered questions about the government: will it be chaired by President Mahmoud Abbas, or someone else? Will the government only swear the constitutional oath before the president, or will it have to secure the confidence of the legislative council, which has yet to set a date to meet?
These types of dispute reduce the ability of the committee to “activate and develop” the PLO, which is considered by Fatah as having more of an advisory role. But Hamas considers the PLO to be an institutional structure of reference for the decision-making process, according to what is stated in the Cairo Agreement regarding the powers of the interim leadership framework of the PLO.
All of this advances the belief that the Gaza announcement is nothing more than a positive step, but also a tactical one taken by the Fatah movement in light of both the failure of negotiations and the need to send a message to the US and Israel that there are other options available to the Palestinian leadership.
Unless steps are taken to fortify the Gaza announcement in the face of an Israeli campaign of pressure and blackmail, for example through a national Palestinian dialogue to develop mechanisms for implementing prior reconciliation agreements according to mutual interpretations of their main contents, and a unified political platform is agreed upon, the implementation of this announcement will face difficulties.
The first obstacles could very well be disputes among Palestinian leaders about what the agreement stipulates, eventually resulting in implosion at some point down the road. It is also possible that they will succeed, in the best case scenario, in forming a government under the leadership of President Abbas or another figure, but this may result in something resembling a federalist council with two governments headed by two different people. The first would be managed by the deputy prime minister of the West Bank and supported by his ministries and security services, while the second would be managed by a second deputy in the Gaza Strip, also supported by his own ministries and security services.
This formula would lead to a phase where management, not ending the split, was a priority and the idea of holding elections would not even be entertained.
By Khalil Shaheen
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