Reports from Cairo that Hamas will join PLO [election planning/monitoring] commission

This is only a preliminary report… and is still Breaking News —

UPDATE: Nabil Shaath told journalists at a pre-Christmas in Bethlehem tonight [Thursday] that “I heard good news, basically, from Cairo … Hamas is willing to accept non-violence, basically, a long-term ‘hudna’, but they do not want us to talk about it very much … What these people in Gaza are really saying is that our right to armed struggle should not be abandoned, and we agree, but we choose not to exercise it”

The real question at stake in today’s meeting in Cairo was: will arrangements finally be made for Hamas to join the PLO, as previously agreed in Cairo in 2005 — and as suggested in a “reconciliation” agreement between Fatah and Hamas in late April, then encoded in a document signed in Cairo in early May?

Apparently, agreement on that has not yet been reached, but a small step has been taken to keep things moving — or to appear to keep things moving — in the right direction.

Today’s meeting of Palestinian political movements and “factions” in Cairo was chaired by Mahmoud Abbas, who is, simultaneously:
(1) Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO], recognized by the UN as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people;
(2) head of the largest Palestinian political movement Fatah, and
(3) … um … well … despite the fact that the mandate ran out either in January 2009 or January 2010, depending on one’s legal view … is still President of the Palestinian Authority set up by agreement under terms of the Oslo Accords [+ subsequent practice] between the PLO and Israel.

Last night, in Cairo, there was a previously-unannounced meeting of Abbas and Hamas’ Politburo Chief Khaled Meshaal.

Until now, the major obstacle to Hamas joining the PLO has been the objection of Fatah.

The problem existed even prior to the mid-June 2007 Hamas military rout [in Ramallah, it was called a “military coup”] of Fatah/PA Preventive Security Forces from Gaza, but that sealed the present division. PA President Mahmoud Abbas immediately responded to this “military coup” with his own “political coup”, dissolving a short-lived [3 months, to be precise] “National Unity” government [negotiated in Mecca by Saudi Arabia] — which was, like the two prior governments formed in the wake of the 2006 elections, led by Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. Hamas reportedly feared an imminent American backed military attack led by Fatah’s Mohammed Dahlan [then a star, now in disgrace].

In the aftermath, Abbas then set up an “Emergency Government”, and named Salam Fayyad as PA Prime Minister. The U.S. and other major donors celebrated with a major “love-in”, praising Fayyad, the American-trained Security Services, and showering Ramallah with donor funding.

Apart from that major rift, the core issue of contention about Hamas joining the PLO: Hamas wanted to have a proportion of seats in the PLO’s Palestine National Council [PNC] similiar to the proportion it won in the 2006 Palestine Legislative Council [PLC] elections = over 60%.

For Fatah, furious that it lost a great deal of ground to Fatah in those 2006 elections, that was, and is, unthinkable.

The most Fatah could agree that Hamas deserves was about 25% maximum.

This is where the new elections come in. Not only has the term expired for the PA President + the PA’s PLC… Fatah is somehow hoping that Hamas will lose any new elections it participates in. This would have the felicitous effect of confirming the correctness of Fatah’s stand [which has prevented Hamas from joining the PLO so far, even if Hamas wanted to]: Fatah firmly believes that Hamas deserves less [preferably, much less] than a majority stake in the PNC.

Basically, the position still is: if Hamas joins the PLO, it will have be on Fatah’s terms, already explained by PLO Chairman [and Fatah leader] Abbas.

As Nabil Shaath said in his remarks to journalists in Bethlehem on Thursday night, if I understood him correctly: Hamas “has to go back to where it was in 2006, apologize to the Palestinian people [for the events of 2007], and abandon all pretense to representing the Palestinian people”…

Does anybody seriously think Hamas is going to apologize for what happened in 2007?

The incremental step announced so far in Cairo — Hamas joining a PLO committee on elections — appears to suggest that some progress in Palestinian reconciliation is being made. [After all, it is something demanded by most Palestinians].

At the same time, the step announced does not yet trespass over the limit suggested by the US, which has said that Hamas must not join any new Palestinian government until it has acceeded to all three conditions set by the Quartet [and by Israel]:
(1) recognition of Israel [Netanyahu has officially set the barrier even higher, at recognition of Israel as a Jewish state];
(2) an end to “terrorism”;
(3) acceptance of all prior PLO agreements and positions.

If there is Hamas participation in a new Palestinian government prior to fulfilling those conditions, the U.S. has threatened a cut off of humanitarian funding to the PA…

Slowing down the arrival of day that decision may have to be taken, while keeping up the appearance of movement and progress towards reconciliation, is one of the main goals shared by the Fatah + Hamas, the two largest Palestinian movements participating in the current exercise.

Meanwhile, there will be a lot of gymnastically-contortionist statements involving circuitous positions of logic that will be advanced to explain all this…

Another take on the Palestinian reconciliation "summit": punishment looms, as it does for "UN bid" too

The Jerusalem Post reports today that it has been told that “Palestinian unity efforts stumble” after the reconciliation summit in Cairo on Friday.

But, while there may be outstanding differences between the two largest Palestinian political factions, the real delay may be an attempt to avoid various threatened punishments, until something changes…

Khaled Abu Toameh, Arab affairs correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, writes today, here, that he has been told “that differences between the two parties remained almost the same as they were before the summit. In addition to the ongoing dispute over the make-up of the proposed unity government, Fatah and Hamas have failed to solve their differences over the reconstruction of the security forces and the release of detainees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip being held by both sides. ‘The 45-minute meeting between President Abbas and Khaled Mashaal was not as successful as it is being portrayed’, a senior Fatah official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post. ‘The most important thing was that the two leaders met and agreed to continue talking about reconciliation and unity. It will take a long time before we ever see real changes on the ground’.”

Punishment for Palestinian Unity

Well, that will be reassuring to American officials who have been worried that they might have to punish the Palestinians, if they actually achieve unity”, by withholding large sums of money that have been the opium of the people in Ramallah.

Jordan-based Palestinian Journalist Daoud Kuttab had earlier reported “rumors” following the flying visit to see Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in the Ramallah presidential headquarters [the Muqata’a] by Jordan’s King Abdallah II on Monday, that there were rumors that Palestinian officials told the Jordanian delegation they would not accept security aid if the U.S. withheld other forms of aid.

Kuttab developed this into two articles: one an opinion piece for the Washington Post, published here, and the second was published by the Huffington Post, here.

[See below for more…]

Punishment if Salam Fayyad is replaced as PM {?}

In his Jerusalem Post article, Abu Toameh reported punishment-related issues were a priority matter in the discussion, writing that “a senior Fatah official” told him “that Hamas’s refusal to accept current PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as head of any future government remained a major obstacle to the implementation of the reconciliation deal … Abbas had initially considered dumping Fayyad in favor of the establishment of a unity government with Hamas. However, immense pressure from the US and some EU countries, as well as a strong warning from Jordan’s King Abdullah, who flew to Ramallah last week for emergency talks with Abbas, persuaded the PA president to hold on to Fayyad … [But] Abbas explained to Mashaal [in Cairo on Friday] that without Fayyad the Palestinians would be punished by the Americans and Europeans, the official said. ‘But this did not change Mashaal’s position. Hamas believes that in wake of the Arab Spring, Arab governments would compensate the Palestinians for any loss of Western financial aid’. On Saturday, Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, reiterated his movement’s strong opposition to the appointment of Fayyad as prime minister of a unity government”.

Abu Toameh added that “Abbas also made it clear during the summit with Mashaal that he would not be able to incorporate Hamas militiamen in the PA security forces, another Fatah official said. The official quoted Abbas as saying that merging Hamas militiamen into the PA security forces would give Israel an excuse to launch attacks on these forces under the pretext of fighting terrorism. Abbas also expressed deep concern that Israel and Fatah would vehemently oppose any attempt to bring Hamas policemen to the West Bank, the official added”.

He also wrote in the JPost that “On the issue of ‘political detainees’ who are being held in PA and Hamas prisons in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the two parties continued over the weekend to blame each other for failing to release their supporters. Abbas and Mashaal have announced twice this year that they would end the arrests of Hamas and Fatah supporters. Despite the announcements, PA security forces continue to arrest Hamas supporters and activists in the West Bank. Hamas, on the other hand, has also been accused of cracking down on Fatah activists in the Gaza Strip by arresting them and preventing them from travelling outside the strip. PA officials denied on Saturday that the PA was holding people in detention for ‘political reasons’. They said all the Hamas detainees in West Bank prisons were being held for allegedly violating the law, but did not give further details … [n.b. Elections are supposed to be held around May 2012, according to a reconciliation agreement initialed in Cairo this past May. But…] According to Zahar, there is no way elections would be held while Hamas supporters remain in PA-run prisons”.

Continue reading Another take on the Palestinian reconciliation "summit": punishment looms, as it does for "UN bid" too

Egypt to hold parliamentary elections on Monday; no date announced for Palestinian elections

The reconciliation “summit” between PLO Chairman + Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas [on the right in the photo below] and Hamas Politibureau chief Khaled Meshaal [on the left, beaming, beside Abbas] went ahead in Cairo on Thursday 24 November.

In an almost-surreal — though all too real — backdrop to this meeting, the widely-detested use of tear gas continued against groups of people identified as protestors around the country, as in Cairo, around the Ministry of Interior and Tahrir Square, the military er”}began the construction of a concrete Wall [“Security Barrider”] topped with coils of barbed wire to cordon off the demonstrators.  Some have vowed to mount the barriers on Friday, however…  And members of the currently-ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] announced they would go ahead with the first phase of parliamentary elections that have been scheduled to begin on Monday 28 November.

In the Palestinian reconciliation summit, however, there were few concrete results announced — how could there be, with big economic sanctions ready to drop if there had been any announced agreement? — but it was packaged as a general overall success, the launch of a new era of cooperation.

Meshaal + Abbas meeting in Cairo on 24 November 2011

Photo provided by the Office of Khaled Meshaal and published in The Daily Star [Lebanon] here: Palestinian Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
are seen together during their meeting in Cairo.
(AP Photo/Office of Khaled Meshaal) EDITORIAL USE ONLY, NO SALES

An analysis of the outcome

The Associated Press reported, hours after the meeting, that “Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal talked for two hours in Cairo but did not reach agreement on touchy matters like the composition of an interim unity government and a date for elections. The meeting raised new questions about whether the rivals are serious about sharing power, or just going through the motions”. This report was published on the CBS news site, here. This is probably way too superficial, and simplistic.

The Daily Star published excerpts from an AFP interview with Meshaal afterwards. According to The Daily Star, Meshaal told AFP that “We believe in armed resistance but popular resistance is a programme which is common to all the factions … Every people has the right to fight against occupation in every way, with weapons or otherwise. But at the moment, we want to cooperate with the popular resistance”.


Reigning in the rocket fire from Gaza

According to the story in The Daily Star, “the two leaders approved a two-page document reiterating their commitment to the main elements of the original deal, which was signed in May, and hailed a new era of ‘partnership’ between their two factions. The document, a copy of which was seen by AFP, outlines an agreement to observe a truce in the West Bank and Gaza Strip along with ‘the adoption of popular resistance which is to be to be strengthened … This resistance will be increased and organised and there is to be an agreement on its style, on greater efficiency and the formation of a framework to direct it’, it said”.

This language seems to apply to Gaza as much as to the West Bank — though Popular Resistance is the strategy that evolved recently in the West Bank in opposition to The Wall and to expanded Israeli settlement activity, and was endorsed by Abbas in the lead-up to the Palestinian “UN bid”, filed on 23 September in New York, for full membership in the international organization.

At the end of October, UNESCO members voted in Paris to admit Palestine as a full member state — and Israel immediately imposed economic sanctions including withholding of the transfer of VAT + customs tax it collects for the Palestinian Authority under the 1994 Paris Protocol, part of the Oslo Accords. Though the US Congress also voted for sanctions, including a withholding of funding to UNESCO, the Obama Administration is trying to hold off on measures that would negatively impact the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian firing of rockets from Gaza in response to every Israeli attack is claimed as a “natural response”, but the IDF Chief of Staff has recently said that he believes an major military operation may be required to stop this. Now, smaller armed groups claim credit for these sporadic actions, but the Israeli military + government say they hold Hamas ultimately responsible, because it is in control in the Gaza Strip.

Abbas has in the past called this sporadic projectile firing “stupid”, but hasn’t spoken out too much recently, at least publicly.

The Daily Star added that “Meshaal did not go into detail about the focus on popular resistance but said he had instructed the movement’s leadership in Gaza and Damascus, to ‘adopt a political line and one with the press that doesn’t upset the conciliatory spirit and that truly reflects the atmosphere of reconciliation … I asked them to take practical and positive measures to flesh out this agreement’.”   This report is posted here.

So, one effect of this meeting appears to be that the Hamas political leadership will be able to use the highly-valued doctrine of national unity to back up a decision to stop projectile firing by smaller separate militant groups.

Palestinian political prisoners

AP also reported that “In a show of good intentions, the two leaders decided that activists of the two movements would be released from detention, said Azzam al-Ahmed, an Abbas envoy”.  This was one of  the main demands of the Palestinian “youth” protesters,  and has been announced several times this year, before and after the reconciliation agreement initialled in May.

Like the Egyptian military leadership,  the Palestinian leadership has claimed that the prisoners each side holds are held on charges of criminal activity, not their political beliefs…

AFP / Hamas Press Office

Left to right: Hamas’ Khalid Meshaal, PLO + Fatah head Mahmoud Abbas, reconciliation negotiator Azzam al-Ahmad of Fatah

The pending “UN bid”

Meanwhile, the Palestinian “UN bid” is still pending, and the Hamas leadership has not opposed it. There is no indication from the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, at least for now, of what decision they will make in light of a likely failure to get enough votes to pass n the UN Security Council, which would trigger a threatened U.S. veto.

Either way, the lack of support within the UN Security Council is a “come back later” decision.

Continue reading Egypt to hold parliamentary elections on Monday; no date announced for Palestinian elections

Protests continue in Egypt, massive tear gas use reported

Protests — and casualties, including deaths — have continued in Egypt today, as a decision was awaited from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces on demands for an immediate transition to civilian rule.

Egyptian riot police are reportedly responsible for the worst violence, but .

A “million man” march was called for 4pm to protest police and military brutality against the demonstrators. At least 100,000 people were reported in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.

Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi was expected to speak at about the same time.

But, he began a meeting with Egyptian political parties…

His remarks were finally aired on Egyptian State TV three hours later, after 7pm.

Despite all evidence to the contrary, Tantawi maintained that the Armed Forces “never killed a single Egyptian”, and he insisted that the Armed Forces are the main protectors of the people. But, he added, “the ability of the Ministry of Interior is improving”…

He said that although they never took a political position, and had no political ambitions, and treated all political parties equally, the Armed Forces had an important role to play, because the “interim situation is not safe … and the Egyptian economy is receding. The Armed Forces would therefore continue to maintain the state and ensure security while “we know that differences are there, and different positions”.

He said that he [“I”] had decided to accept the resignation of the present Prime Minister and his cabinet — but had asked them to stay on in their posts until a new government could be formed…

Tantawi observed that “the closer we come to elections, the more tensions are increasing — this we cannot understand”.

Only “at the end of this process will we hand over power to an elected civilian authority”, Tantawi said in his televised address.

A first round of parliamentary elections is due to be held in less than a week — on November 28, and Tantawi said that this schedule would be maintained.

Continue reading Protests continue in Egypt, massive tear gas use reported

Hamas + Fatah announce in Cairo they've reached agreement

This was a surprise.

The announcement came at the end of the day, in the early evening. Reuters broke the story. Hamas and Fatah, meeting in Cairo, had reached agreement on reconciliation. Further details were not immediately available, and only a few pieces of information filtered out as evening became night, and later.

With the lack of information, there was much scepticism.

And, signs of possible trouble just ahead.

Isabelle Kershner (and four other correspondents in Cairo, Gaza and Washington) wrote in the New York Times that “In a televised address on Wednesday, even before the Fatah-Hamas press conference, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, sent a stern warning to the Palestinian Authority president and Fatah chief, Mahmoud Abbas.  ‘The Palestinian Authority has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas’, Mr. Netanyahu said, adding, ‘Peace with both of them is impossible, because Hamas aspires to destroy the state of Israel and says so openly’.  The choice, he said, was in the authority’s hands”. This story is published here.

One Twitterer (from Gaza) called Netanyahu a “Drama Queen” after these remarks.

A Tweet from the Palestinian President’s office said, in response to Netanyahu’s remarks: @MahmoudAbbas – #Netanyahu has to choose between #Peace or #Settlement’s construction.

Continue reading Hamas + Fatah announce in Cairo they've reached agreement

At least 1 out of every 80 Egyptians are already in the streets

UPDATE: Very late at night, after speaking to a special U.S. envoy (former Ambassador to Egypt Frank Wisner), Husni Mubarak made a pre-recorded statement to the country. He said the protests have been heard, but that he would stay until elections now set for September (he would not run, he said. Mubarak also said he would not leave the country. Two hours later (after another 30-minute post-Mubarak-speech phone conversation), U.S. President Barack Obama said that “An orderly transition must be meaningful, must be peaceful and must begin now” Of course, it all depends on what one means by “begin”, and what one means by “now”… At least one million people were out on the streets throughout the country during the day — estimates ranged as high as 4 million, or even 8 million (one-tenth of the total population)…

Today is the “million-man (+ women)” march, which started in the morning.

Estimates by 10am were that there were at least 500,000 people already in Tahrir Square.

More people are continuing to stream to Tahrir Square, and demonstrators are also moving in other cities around the country.

One said (in an interview posted on Brian Whitaker’s blog, Al-Bab) that if the Egyptian government is satisfied that it is allowing “democratic expression” in Tahrir Square, then the idea would be to move, today, to protest in front of the Presidential Palace in Heliopolis.  The entire regime must go, this man said, not just the government…

The internet was totally shut down in Egypt last night (so much for U.S. President Obama’s call last Friday to turn it back on).

Hamas, Fatah + Palestinian Factions agree to try to form one government

After the first day of full meetings in Cairo today on national reconciliation, the main Palestinian factions — including hitherto bitter rivals Hamas and Fatah — said they had reached agreement in principle on a new government.

There is not yet agreement on what kind of new government it should be.
Continue reading Hamas, Fatah + Palestinian Factions agree to try to form one government