Thursday, February 16, 2006

Dealing with a New Palestinian Reality: 02-16-2006

Dealing with a New Palestinian Reality: 02-16-2006

Hamas' victory raises questions about how the PA will be governed (Photo: AP)

February 16, 2006
Prepared By: Staff

The implications of the Hamas victory in Palestinian parliamentary elections remain clouded by concerns over its willingness to engage with other Palestinian politicians and Israel. The group's leaders have done little to ease U.S. and Israeli fears that Hamas will refuse to renounce violence and recognize Israel. Decisions by Turkey and Russia to meet Hamas leaders, meanwhile, highlighted emerging differences in the international community over how to deal with the movement (Reuters).

A new Palestinian Authority (PA) parliament will be sworn in February 18, perhaps yielding some answers to how Hamas plans to form a government. Among the few concrete developments (AP) is the nomination of two Hamas members for leadership positions: hardliner Mahmoud Zahar as head of its parliamentary faction, and Abdel Aziz Dweik, a geography professor from the West Bank city of Hebron, as its candidate for parliament speaker.

Meanwhile, tensions between Hamas and former ruling party Fatah remain high. Fatah members, including current PA President Mahmoud Abbas, had initially refused to join Hamas in a government of national unity. But senior Fatah leader Jibreel Rajoub said this week (Daily Star) that Fatah could work with Hamas if the group agreed to "accept the concept of an Israeli and a Palestinian state, accept the agreements the PA has signed with Israel, and endorse the Arab peace initiative." Former Middle East envoy Dennis Ross tells's Bernard Gwertzman the United States must focus on persuading Hamas to "transform itself" and accept Israel's right to exist.

There is also tremendous concern over who will control the sprawling Palestinian security services (CSMonitor). As president, Abbas has made little headway in reforming the security forces, and a major issue going forward is what Hamas will do to bring them under control and ensure security in the PA. The chaotic state of the Palestinian security services is explained in this CFR Background Q&A.

In one sign of potential change, Hamas' armed wing, the Iz al-Din al-Qassam, has been collecting and registering weapons from its members in the Gaza Strip (Haaretz). Some experts say this move could signal Hamas' willingness to impose order on its members and potentially extend a current ceasefire with Israel. Still others say it shows only that Hamas is consolidating its own militia as a counterweight to the Fatah-linked security services.

Signs of moderation are crucial for a Hamas-led government to secure Western aid. Without these funds, Hamas has no chance of delivering on its campaign promises to improve Palestinian life. The PA budget of about $1 billion per year comes mostly from foreign aid: The European Union gave Hamas some $330 million in 2005 and the United States had earmarked $150 million for this year. This Congressional Research Service report details where the U.S. aid money goes.

Former U.S. ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer tells the United States should find a way to deal with the Hamas government, particularly if it is headed by an independent. And Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki says Abbas should join a unity government with Hamas as a way to keep Fatah relevant in the PA.

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