CMEP Bulletin: Unification of Palestinian Government

CMEP Bulletin: Unification of Palestinian Government

Churches for Middle East Peace weekly news update

This week the Palestinian Authority formed a new unity government backed by both the two main Palestinian political parties, Fatah and Hamas. The fallout highlights the growing tensions between the U.S. and the Netanyahu government over U.S. relations with Palestinians.  Prime Minister Netanyahu and other senior officials condemned in unusually vitriolic terms the U.S. announcement that it would continue relations with the new Palestinian unity government. The New York Times reported that the harsh language shows how strained relations are between U.S. and Israel since the collapse of the peace talks a month ago. US officials have largely blamed Israel for the collapse which Israel strenuously denies. 

Thenew Palestinian cabinet is made up of “technocrats”, prominent persons who are not members of a political party. Their mandate is to prepare for long overdue elections of the Palestinian parliament in the next six months. After the election, a new cabinet is to be formed with the support of the new parliament. 

This cabinet is the first formed with the agreement of both parties since Hamas staged a coup in Gaza in 2007, expelling Fatah from Gaza. Fatah followed by expelling Hamas operatives from the West Bank.  The U.S. and most western countries consider Hamas a terrorist organization. It or its surrogates have regularly fired rockets into Israel from Gaza, occasionally killing innocent people. (A common definition of terrorism is deliberately targeting non-combatants with deadly force in hope of political gain.) 

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas moved to reconcile with Hamas after U.S.-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian negotiations failed in late April to bring about even a general framework agreement on the core issues separating the two sides. Since 2005 Abbas has cooperated closely with the U.S. and Israel on security matters, including arrests of Palestinians in the West Bank wanted by the Israelis, in hopes this would help progress toward an agreement to end the Israeli occupation. When negotiations failed in April, his move towards Hamas helped shore up his political support against his critics who said his cooperation with the US and Israel had failed to yield political results for Palestinians. 

Hamas has been in charge of Gaza but isolated there. It was founded as an Islamic political party (with help from Israel seeking to build up a rival to the secular Palestine Liberation Organization) with help from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. It is now gets the cold shoulder from the anti-Brotherhood military government in Cairo, and its support from Iran was cut back after it fell out with Syria, Iran’s protégé. It has received support from Qatar, but Gaza and Hamas remain largely cut off from the world by Israel because of its support for violence and militant opposition to Israel’s right to exist. 

 Israel has said it will refuse to negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, or in this case, a government of non-political technocrats formed with the support of Hamas. However, to the anger of the Netanyahu government, the U.S. announced this week that it intends to continue to work with the Palestinian unity government and continue U.S. assistance, while monitoring the situation closely. U. S. spokespersons pointed out that the cabinet includes no Hamas members, and PA government continues to adhere to the Quartet principles that include recognition of Israel, opposition to violence, and support for previous agreements. Contrary to its charter, Hamas has now given its endorsement to a government that recognizes and cooperates with Israel. 

The real political crunch may come in six months when elections contested by both Fatah and Hamas are scheduled to take place. The U.S. has said it will not work with the new government if it includes  Hamas members of the Cabinet. US law also calls for cutting off US assistance if there is “undue” Hamas influence in the government. On the other hand, a cutoff of US assistance, including $200 million in budgetary support, could destabilize the Palestinian government, a development that is very much not in U.S. or Israeli interest.

Another question revolves around whether the U.S. could recognize the results of an election when one of the parties – Hamas – has its own militia. Elections are not usually considered democratic when one of the parties is armed. On the other hand, in the interest of promoting political stability and U.S. interests, the U.S. has diplomatic relations with the government of Lebanon, even though that government’s Cabinet includes several Hezbollah members, a party that is both armed and considered a terrorist organization by the U.S.  In the past, attempts by Fatah and Hamas to firm unity government have failed, not least because of no agreement on who would control the armed militia of Hamas. That problem also remains unresolved.

Join us in prayer

 Prayer for the Peace of Jerusalem
as Pope Francis prays with President Abbas and President Peres in Rome
June 8, 2014
by Bishop Richard E. Pates (Catholic Diocese of Des Moines)

God our Father,
            For the peace of Jerusalem we pray (Psalm 122:6).
Lord Jesus,
            You wept over Jerusalem two millennia ago. Today we weep over a conflict that continues to divide your Father’s family and cause untold suffering.
Come, Holy Spirit,
            As you did at Pentecost, bless Palestinians and Israelis with courage and wisdom to walk the road to peace with justice.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.