Was it a coincidence that Israel suddenly started unscheduled demolition work at the Haram al-Sharif in al-Quds, launching protests across occupied Palestine, just as Fatah and Hamas leaders were on the verge of a landmark power-sharing agreement in Makkah? Probably not, for the Makkah Agreement signed on February 8 marks the failure of the US and Israel’s strategy of forcing Hamas to relinquish the mandate to lead the Palestinian people that Hamas won in Palestine’s parliamentary elections in January last year.
For the last year, the Western strategy has been to force the Palestinians into submission through economic sanctions and political pressure, until either Hamas stepped down, or the Palestinian people turned against them. At the same time, the West did everything possible to bolster the position of president Mahmoud Abbas, and to provoke fighting between his Fatah group and Hamas, to the extent of arming Fatah for war against other Palestinians. However, this was widely condemned by independent Palestinian commentators, and even many Fatah members and supporters, and Palestinians generally refused to be manipulated in this way. Despite sporadic clashes between Hamas and Fatah members, the Western hope for all-out civil war was thwarted. Nonetheless, the Palestinians were undoubtedly under immense pressure, reflected in spontaneous celebration in the streets of many neighbourhoods after the signing of the Makkah Agreement was shown live on Palestinian television, a sight which could only have dismayed the Israeli and Western officials who had worked so hard to break the Palestinians’ spirit.
The Makkah Agreement establishes the basis for a government of national unity similar to that proposed by Hamas after their election success, but rejected by Fatah. Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh will remain in office, with a Fatah deputy prime minister alongside him. However, independent experts, rather than political appointees, will take over key ministries, including the interior, finance and foreign affairs.
The Makkah Agreement establishes the basis for a government of national unity similar to that proposed by Hamas after their election success, but rejected by Fatah. Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh will remain in office, with a Fatah deputy prime minister alongside him. However, independent experts, rather than political appointees, will take over key ministries, including the interior, finance and foreign affairs. Commentator Khalid Ameyrah, writing in al-Ahram weekly, described it as “a balanced document [with] fair power-sharing arrangements whereby Hamas will retain the first rank while Fatah is treated very much as second among equals.”
Hamas has also not been forced to back down on its key points of principle. The agreement does not include any recognition ofIsrael, as demanded by Israel and its Western allies. Instead Hamas will maintain its longstanding offer of a truce to allow political progress to be made, provided that it is honoured by both sides. The political guidelines for the new government included in the Agreement state only that it will “respect and honour” previous agreements between the PLO and Israel; but this a only a guideline, and needs to be read in conjunction with Hamas’s established position that it will not be bound by agreements that Israel has breached. In effect, Israel will have to negotiate from scratch with the Hamas-led government.
The response from Israel and its Western allies was understandably lukewarm. Their detailed response will come once the new government is announced, probably early in March. They will probably maintain at least a partial economic boycott, while also looking for new ways to undermine the Hamas government, possibly by exploiting the influence that they hope the Saudis will now have over the Palestinians, by virtue of having overseen the talks between Hamas and Fatah. The fact remains that the Palestinians are still in a politically weak and disadvantaged position, dealing with an enemy that seeks confrontation to justify its expansionist policies. But the Makkah Agreement at least keeps the leadership of the Palestinians in the hands of those best able to resist them.