February 11, 2007
What the Mecca Agreement could mean for the future of Palestine
The Mecca Agreement, signed by the leaders of Hamas and Fatah on 9 February, elicited much hope: that it will end the mini civil war in Gaza, which had begun to spread to the West Bank; that it will lift the international sanctions on the PA government; that it would force Israel to return to the negotiation table.
So far, the first target seems to have reached as the fighting has stopped. Of course, only in a few weeks will we know if the cessation of violence is permanent and can be sustained.
On the second and third targets the verdict is still out. The agreement has been received very cautiously, with the general comment being "Let's first see if the new government will conform to all demands by the International Quartet." The main, thorny issue is that of recognition of Israel and all agreements signed by the PLO.
One thing that hasn't been talked about is just what the new "government of national unity" means for the Palestinians ruled by it, and what the distribution of ministries will mean for the role that both Hamas and Fatah can (& cannot) play in Palestine.
According to Khaleej Times (the only site where I could find it), the distribution of cabinet posts will be as follows:
- Ismail Haniyeh (Hamas) will stay PM
- Fatah will appoint Ziyad Abu Amr (Independent) as Foreign Minister
- Salam Fayyad (Independent) will be Finance Minister
- Hamas gets to appoint an independent figure for post of Interior Minister, but Abbas has to approve the choice
- Hamas gets 8 ministries: Education and Higher Education, Islamic Waqf (religious foundations), Labor, Local Government, Youth and Sports, Justice, Telecommunications and Information Technology, Economy, and a state minister
- Hamas gets to appoint an independent figure for post of Minister of Planning
- Mahmud Abbas (Fatah) will appoint a Deputy PM
- Fatah gets 6 ministries: Health, Social Affairs, Public Works, Transportation, Agriculture and Prisoners Affairs
The outside powers (Quartet, Israel, Arab states) are pretty much only interested in the first three posts, as they are the ones relevant for the negotiations, and the distribution of foreign aid and the Palestinian customs revenues that Israel collects. Maybe also the decision to have an independent person run the Interior Ministry is of interest, as the violence often occurs between rival factions of the official security services, some Fatah- and some Hamas-affiliated. But the rest of the posts might be as relevant.
Both Hamas and Fatah will head ministries that are nothing but headaches for those having to run them. The Hamas officials heading the labor and economy ministries will have to face unrealizable demands just as much as the Fatah officials who will be responsible for their ministries.
However, Fatah received pretty much only "headache" posts, whereas Hamas retained control over strategic institutions. Hamas will control all education, where it can keep consolidate its concepts of what a "good Islamic education" is supposed to be. The Youth and Sports portfolio complements this programmatic task. Control over telecommunications and information means that Hamas can influence public information and journalism. The Ministry of Local Government gives it patronage over the village and town councils, which it can portion out according to their "allegiance" to or "defiance" of its central policies. Hamas' control of the Justice Ministry ... well, I don't think I have to spell out that one.
I know that, given the current situation and the experiences of the past decade, all focus is on the Palestinian-Israeli confrontation, the attempts to finally end the occupation of the pre-'67 territories, and that internal strife among Palestinian factions is seen in that light. Indeed, inner-Palestinian discord and violence first and foremost serves those who are glad about any excuse they can find to postpone the international negotiations.
However, just like the Lebanese post-'89 decision to ignore internal disagreements in the face of the external enemy didn't solve them but allowed an Islamist movement to establish a state-within-a-state and to socialize the inhabitants of "its" area into its worldview, so will the Palestinian decision to postpone the internal disagreements on the future of Palestinian society not erase them but, instead, harden them and give the Islamist movement time and resources to further its programmatic goal.
Right now, facing a burgeoning civil war, the Mecca Agreement is probably the best deal that could've been reached. But unless Fatah and its allies do not regain the upper hand in the fields of clean government, social services, and education, they might win a few battles ... but ultimately lose the war.
TrackBack URL for this entry:
The Mecca agreement shows alot of promise if you ignore the past 30 years of political disillusionment taking place in Palestine. Most recently the chaos that has been allowed to flourish after the death of Yasser Arafat has shown a particularly bleak outlook of the future.
The big question is will Hamas and Fatah be able to stick to the aspirations and goals of the agreement, get back to paying government employees and picking up garbage. Unfortunately the demands of the desperate in palestine is not to facilitate the most common social services, they are busy praising anyone who is willing to challenge Israel and launch rockets no matter how futile and meaningless their efforts are.
Posted by: D.B Shobrawy at February 14, 2007 12:39 AM
Two rather long points I'd like to make on this, some days after.
MSK - However, just like the Lebanese post-'89 decision to ignore internal disagreements in the face of the external enemy didn't solve them but allowed an Islamist movement to establish a state-within-a-state [...] so will the Palestinian decision to postpone the internal disagreements [...] give the Islamist movement time and resources to further its programmatic goal.
I'm not so sure about this reading of the deal. First of all, the Lebanese decision wasn't all that much of a Lebanese decision -- significant sections of the losing side wanted to keep fighting, but were simply broken by outside force.
That hasn't happened in Palestine. On the contrary, it is rather Hamas that plays the role of the Aoun factions here, by surrendering/sharing a big chunk of its own post-election power, after finding out the hard way that they won't be able to exercise it anyway, in the face of a chaos-fomenting coalition of outside and inside forces (Fatah + Israel + boycott).
Not a good parallell, but that's also why I feel the original one wasn't too accurate. (Not to sound whiny, it was a good post apart from that.)
If they are able to keep Islamizing society it is despite Mecca, not because of it. The alternative to Mecca-style power-sharing was never that Hamas would lose power entirely, but rather that Fatah either backs down or goes all out, civil war.
What the Mecca Agreement solved (huh, inshallah) was the internal Palestinian conflict. But it now seems it, or rather the reactions to it, will make one of the other main issues, underlying the conflict, an even harder nut to crack. Namely the boycott.
Look at it this way: with both Hamas and Western positions pretty well cemented by now, neither side can unilaterally move forward on the boycott issue without a bad loss of credibility. So they won't, barring drastic changes in the political environment.
But since both sides know that Palestinian collapse is not in the interest of either of them, they have kept an face-saving option open: to discreetly bypass each other, and have the EU and/or US send money to non-Hamas recipients (despite the fact that it will be spent the same way. The aid monitoring is the same in either case). The EU especially has dangled this as bait in front of Hamas from day one of the boycott.
Breaking the boycott in this way was the second of two primary goals for Hamas when going to Mecca (the first was the ministries-for-peace deal with Fatah). It is the reason for having Ziad Abu Amr as foreign minister, and for the Hamas vow to "respect" the Oslo Agreement.
But now it seems that the US has finally decided that neither of these changes are sufficient, and that it won't agree to re-extending aid with whatever face-saving method. It also seems that the EU will play along. (Israel under its present, long-term suicidal government, will of course also argue against a resumption of contact. But in the end it is forced to adapt to whatever those two come up with.)
Whatever the merits of this position, it means that the boycott and civil war issues have now become completely entangled. Because of the sensibility of the Mecca deal, I cannot imagine the Palestinians will start shifting cabinet posts again to satisfy the Quartet terms, since the US has just restated that Hamas must basically leave the government altogether for the money tap to be turned back on. If Fatah demands that, it would instantly remove the foundations of their hard-won civil peace.
So, end result is: peace but no movement on the boycott. One out of two, not bad. But, and what a big but it is: in the light of the US response, the Palestinians have now at a penstroke also rendered themselves unable to make any further unilateral moves on the boycott without consequently risking civil peace. That is fucking significant.
But then, of course, the whole thing could also collapse for a myriad reasons not related to the boycott. I quote this BBC summary of last-minute problems as an example of dry, British humour: "Hamas was reportedly unhappy about moves to dissolve a security force that it has established."
That is, reportedly, what we call an understatement.
Posted by: alle at February 17, 2007 07:18 AM
You know, I'm not sure holding a Palestinian people's summit in atown off limits to non-Muslims is very inclusive.
Posted by: matthew hogan at February 20, 2007 09:18 PM