Palestinian talks postponed until after Doha… and then?
The hopes of achieving a Palestinian government of national unity in advance of the Doha Summit are now officially over, as Cairo announced that the next round of talks will be held at the beginning of April after the summit. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum stressed that the door of dialogue would not remain open forever. Without ...
The hopes of achieving a Palestinian government of national unity in advance of the Doha Summit are now officially over, as Cairo announced that the next round of talks will be held at the beginning of April after the summit. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum stressed that the door of dialogue would not remain open forever. Without the Doha summit deadline, that's a real fear.
The hopes of achieving a Palestinian government of national unity in advance of the Doha Summit are now officially over, as Cairo announced that the next round of talks will be held at the beginning of April after the summit. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum stressed that the door of dialogue would not remain open forever. Without the Doha summit deadline, that’s a real fear.
Attention will now turn to the Arab meetings in Doha, which at least one Palestinian commentator calls the real next round in the Palestinian talks. There have certainly been signs of frustration out of Damascus, Amman, Riyadh, Doha and elsewhere (such as the Jordanian statement during Bashar al-Asad’s visit which "stressed the importance of reconciliation between Palestinian factions" or the Saudi King Abdullah’s plea for progress yesterday). The key question: will other Arab states, perhaps less exclusively committed to Fatah and more interested in achieving an agreement, push back against Egyptian management of the talks?
Even if they did, it isn’t clear that it would matter. It isn’t likely that an agreement would actually matter even if signed on paper. Fatah officials (and reportedly Egypt) have been urging the West to maintain the pressure on Hamas and to insist on the Quartet pre-conditions — which Hamas refuses to do. Despite some personal cordiality in the talks themselves, the political gap between Hamas and Fatah remains huge — with feelings raw on both sides. Hamas feels strong in Gaza and in the West Bank. And some in Fatah may believe that their future will be brighter with strong American political support, the continuing training of security forces under General Dayton’s guidance, and the promises (however familiar and however consistently frustrated) of economic development progress on the West Bank.
Meanwhile, many in Hamas have lost whatever faith they had (not much) in Egypt’s role as an honest broker. The firm American position against any kind of unity government including Hamas without prior commitment to the Quartet principles, combined with the Israeli elections, significantly reduced Hamas’s expected gains from an agreement — why go to all the trouble if the West would refuse to deal with it anyway?
Finally, while both sides see some benefits in reaching agreement they also see near-existential risks: many in Hamas believe that meeting the Quartet conditions under current conditions would destroy its identity and its legitimacy for little benefit, while many in Fatah see that an agreement with Fatah could both make a mockery of its own commitment to the peace process and deprive it of the exclusive Western and Israeli recognition which is its only real weapon.
If the outcome is the status quo, then — Hamas controls Gaza, the U.S. and the West deal only with Ramallah and Abu Mazen — what would be the practical implications? Is it possible for the Obama administration to convince anyone in the region that it is serious about change if it maintains the same position on what most Arabs consider the most important and sensitive litmus test? How would Gaza’s reconstruction proceed, if at all, with Hamas controlling Gaza and no workable unity government? Would this make it more or less likely that a Netanyahu government could be prodded into peace talks? A million and one questions…
Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).
He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements. Twitter: @abuaardvark
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