This is a sign that Abbas has given up on any peace deal with Israel and is another nail in the coffin of Bush's Middle East strategy. Rice is criticizing Israeli settlement plans. Israel is praising Lebanon''s deal with Hezzbollah and is talking with Syria. Olmert is probably on the way out for corruption. Now Abbas is looking for unity with Hamas. The Bushy mid-east policy is self-destructing. The Palestinians will be much stronger if unified. If elections lead to a unified government that fights for Palestinian rights rather than among themselves the U.S. will be less able to simply support Israel and ignore the Palestinians.
Abbas calls for unity with Hamas
By Tobias Buck in Jerusalem
Published: June 5 2008 17:16 Last updated: June 5 2008 17:16
Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, has called for unity between his Fatah party and the Islamist Hamas group, one of the clearest signs yet that the Palestinian leadership has lost faith in its peace talks with Israel.
He said he wanted a “comprehensive national dialogue” with Hamas and again raised the prospect of early elections to end the stand-off between the two rival Palestinian factions.
Mr Abbas has long been reluctant to engage Hamas out of concern that such a move would damage his goal of reaching a peace agreement with Israel by the end of the year. Reaching out to the Islamist group may also threaten the international community’s generous financial and political support for the PA.
Yet with Israel’s coalition government teetering on the brink of collapse and with no visible progress in the peace talks so far, Mr Abbas is now hinting at a change of direction. Speaking late on Wednesday, he said he wanted to implement a recent reconciliation proposal drawn up by Yemen – one of several attempts by Arab countries to bridge the divide between the two groups.
Mr Abbas has accused Hamas of staging a “coup” since the group ousted his forces from the Gaza Strip last June. The defeat left the president with only the West Bank to govern and dealt a heavy blow to his political authority. In spite of strong pressure from Israel, Hamas has since consolidated its hold on the territory, which it and other militant groups use as a launch-pad for rocket attacks on nearby Israeli towns. Only on Thursday, a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip killed an Israeli man and injured several more.
According to the Yemeni plan, Hamas would have to hand back power in the Gaza Strip to the PA – a condition that senior Palestinian officials said Mr Abbas was not about to give up. However, unlike in previous interventions, the president did not refer to a Gaza handover specifically in his speech and one of his adviser’s said yesterday that he wanted to show “flexibility”.
Hamas welcomed the president’s more conciliatory stance but insisted on “unconditional” talks.
Mr Abbas said the divide between Fatah and Hamas and the territories they govern had caused the “worst damage ever to our cause” and increased the suffering of the 1.5m Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip. Living conditions in the territory have plummeted since Israel imposed an economic blockade on the Strip last year.
Ali Jarbawi, a professor of political sciences at the Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, said Mr Abbas’s intervention marked the most serious attempt to bridge the gulf between Hamas and Fatah since the Gaza takeover last year. “He is now willing to talk to Hamas while Hamas is still controlling Gaza,” he said.
Prof Jarbawi argued that the shift was triggered by several forces, including the forthcoming anniversary of the Gaza takeover, which had increased pressure on Mr Abbas to close the rift.
Growing scepticism about the prospects of the peace talks with Israel was another reason. “He wanted to give the negotiations enough time. But apparently he has now come to the conclusion that nothing is going to happen,” he said.
January 2006 Hamas, the militant Islamist movement responsible for dozens of suicide bombings in Israel, sweeps to power in Palestinian legislative elections as the ruling Fatah party, led by Mahmoud Abbas, falls. The incoming Palestinian government faces a financial crisis as external funds are cut off.
April 2006 The US and EU suspend direct aid to the Palestinian Authority.
February 2007 Saudi Arabia secures an agreement between Fatah and Hamas, leading to a unity government. EU nations refuse to recognise the new government, insisting it first agree to recognise Israel.
June 2007 Hamas seizes control of the Gaza Strip after defeating forces loyal to Mr Abbas. The PA president dismisses the national unity government and forms a separate West Bank administration .
Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2008