Q: As we know, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal made an agreement to form a unity government headed by Abbas himself at the beginning of February. Some experts think that the uprisings in the region have made a positive impact on Hamas-Fatah relations, arguing, for example, that the oust of Mubarak has removed the pressure on Hamas and leaved Fatah more lonely, thus making it more necessary for Fatah to cooperate with Hamas. What do you think about the impact of so called “Arab Spring” on Hamas-Fatah relations?
A: The upheavals in the Arab world have definitely had a major impact on Palestinian’s way of thinking. A year ago, the leadership of both sides of the Palestinian split were worried about pressure from their own societies, but they successfully avoided that. But the changes in Egypt and Syria raise both threats and opportunities for Hamas; Fatah also realizes that the collapse of the peace process and of Mubarak regime must have an impact on their strategic vision.
But although it is clear that regional events will have an impact, it is not quite clear what that impact is, and both sides are badly divided within themselves about how to react.
Q: There were some failed attempts to have a reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah in the past and there are still some people, from within both Hamas and Fatah, critical of the agreement between the sides. With such a guidance, how possible is it for the recent deal to succeed?
A: It is possible for the deal to succeed, especially if it remains less ambitious (to have a detente or at most power sharing rather than a full reform of the PLO and the PA). But there are powerful forces within each side that will resist along with some international pressure against success as well.
At this point, all the two sides have accomplished is an agreement to agree. It is not clear to me if they can go further.
If there is a new round of pressure from Palestinian public opinion, especially on the issue of elections, then I think that reconciliation may actually take on more meaning. But that does not seem to be happening.
Q: In your article of “Are Palestinians Building a State?,” you foresee that if reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah was to occur, Fayyad would hardly be able to lead the effort. And at the current level, we see that a prospective unity government will be headed by Abbas, not Fayyad. What will the role of Fayyad be in this new political setting? If he is in, how can Abbas reconcile Hamas with Fayyad as Fayyad has an aloof stance towards Hamas’ very confrontational conduct of policy?
A: Fayyad may stay on as finance minister--and the US has insisted that he remains even as prime minister.
I think the personal focus on Fayyad is ironic, since the very same forces that insist on his continuing in office were those who touted his building of institutions. If he were actually successful, much less would depend on a specific individual.
But I also think that Fayyad is not the main obstacle to reconciliation. There are some in Fatah who resent him because he is not a member; there are some in Hamas who resent him because of the suppression of Hamas in the West Bank. But he is not the main issue.
Q: What will happen to “Fayyadism,” which is also a very controversial term for academic works? Will Abbas have to come up with a different approach to Palestinian Authority's independence?
A: Fayyad himself never promised that technocratic state building itself would lead to independence or statehood, so he was less of a Fayyadist than many of his Western supporters. At this point, he can claim credit for some pockets of better administration and more security inside cities. But there is no political or diplomatic progress to speak of, robbing those accomplishments of any foundation or sustainability.
Abu Mazin does not have a lot of options left. His diplomatic efforts have largely been blocked; the peace process is dead; and reconciliation is proceeding slowly and endangers his financial base. I do not see any way forward for him.
The PA is likely to continue because so many parties have an investment in it--for Israelis, it relieves them of the burdens of occupation; for Palestinians it provides tens of thousands of jobs; for Americans and Europeans, it provides the illusion of a process.
But if the PA continues, it is no longer tied to any viable national strategy for Palestinians.
Q: There is a reported statement of Netanyahu that “If Abu Mazen (Abbas) implements what was signed in Doha, he chooses to abandon the path of peace and join himself to Hamas.” Why does Netanyahu oppose to Fatah's agreement with Hamas so much? Given that an agreement between Hamas and Fatah is essential to a unitary and healthy Palestinian Authority as a part of two-state solution, also supported by Israel, how realistic is to ignore such a de facto political entity like Hamas?
A: I do not think the Netanyahu government is interested in a two-state solution. It is not interested in a fight with the US, so it cooperates with US diplomacy, but it does not seem to think a two state solution is either possible or desirable.
Fatah-Hamas reconciliation would offer the Netanyahu government some relieve from the pressure of a diplomatic process. But it would also allow reemergence of Hamas in the West Bank. And it might lead Israel to move against the PA, which would create further problems, especially if the PA began to decay as a result.
Overall, then, reconciliation would be a bit of mixed bag for the current Israeli leadership. But their major focus right now is not on Palestinians but on Iran.
Q: If Hamas and Fatah succeed on their unitary government deal, they also plan to do the already-due presidential and parliamentary elections in the most immediate time. Which side do you think, in such a long deadlock between Hamas and Fatah since 2007, has benefited most for the prospective elections?
A: Neither side is ready for elections. Since 2007, Hamas has lost much of its popular support, and Fatah has fallen further into decay. If there were elections--which still seems unlikely--, Hamas’s greater discipline and organization would probably help it recover much quickly than Fatah. But it is not clear how well it would do, because it is apparent to most Palestinians that Hamas does not have a viable long term strategy.