Hamas, Fatah make 'unity' overtures under pressure

RAMALLAH, Hossam Ezzedine- This week's huge unity protests may have forced Hamas and Fatah into making a show of patching up their differences, but analysts are cynical about the rivals' sincerity.
Earlier this week, Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas said he was ready to go to Gaza "in the next few days" to put an end to years of hostilities between the Islamist Hamas movement and their secular Fatah rivals, so the two factions could "turn the page on this black and shameful division."

Hamas, Fatah make 'unity' overtures under pressure
His remarks were welcomed by Hamas, and appeared to set the stage for a rare meeting between Abbas and the Islamist prime minister Ismail Haniya in the movement's Gaza stronghold.
The exchange of platitudes came about after tens of thousands of young Palestinians took to the streets of the West Bank and Gaza to demand that the two factions end nearly two decades of bitter rivalry which has badly damaged their national movement.
For some, the Palestinian leader's willingness to go to Gaza "tomorrow" for talks with the enclave's Islamist rulers about ending the bitter split, was a hopeful sign that things might be about to change.
"What Abbas announced is a big improvement," political scientist Samir Awad told AFP.
"It takes two to tango, so there is a chance for things to improve. But both sides must move, and this is dependent on each side's political will."
Most analysts and commentators agree that the proposed meeting between Abbas and Haniya came about as a result of the protests.
"Whether it is Haniya's initiative to invite Abbas, or Abbas saying he is ready to come to Gaza, it happened because of Facebook activists," said Talal Okal, a Gaza-based political analyst.
Okal believes that Abbas's announcement "threw a big ball into Hamas's lap."
"Hamas was surprised by his announcement and initially welcomed it. But that doesn't necessarily mean it is really welcome," he said.
"I assume that nothing real will happen and that time will pass without anything being achieved, so it will take huge public pressure on both sides for anything to happen."
And it looks as if that pressure it set to continue, with organisers of the March 15 protests insisting their activities would continue until words are translated into action.
"We welcome the president's initiative and Hamas's response, but we think that the pressure must increase in order that they take reconciliation very seriously," Samah Rawah told AFP.
"We think that both camps have started to move but that doesn't mean that we have achieved our goals, these are only initiatives which haven't yet turned into action," she said.
Hamas and Fatah have been at loggerheads since the early 1990s, but tensions boiled over in 2007 when the Islamists kicked their secular rivals out of Gaza after days of bloody street battles.
Since then, Abbas has not set foot in Gaza, which has been effectively cut off from the West Bank and the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority which controls it.
But in his speech, Abbas made clear he had more on his agenda than just unity talks.
"I am ready to go to Gaza tomorrow to end the division and form a government of independent national figures to start preparing for... elections within six months," he said, in a move which some said was likely to prove a stumbling block for Hamas.
Hamas "welcomed the visit but didn't welcome the initiative," political analyst Khalil Shaheen told AFP. "Hamas wants a visit to open dialogue, not only to form a government.
"Hamas is afraid of going to elections without agreeing on other political elements because it fears it may be voted out in the same way it was voted in," he said, referring to the Islamists' landslide win in 2006 legislative elections.
Not everyone saw Abbas's initiative as a positive step towards reconciling the two factions.
"What he is offering here is a visit to form an independent government that Hamas will not be part of, so I doubt Hamas will accept that," said George Giacaman, head of the Palestinian Institute for the Study of Democracy.
"For Hamas, reconciliation is not about forming a government to supervise elections," he told AFP.
"I think there will not be any result from this as neither side is willing to give up their international and regional alliances," he said.

Friday, March 18th 2011
Hossam Ezzedine

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