After months of hibernation, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict seems to be getting more attention of late. Despite the volatility of the situation in Syria and Egypt the most recent agreement reached in the Qatari capital received a lot of media attention. It also seems to have touched a number of political nerves, especially within the Hamas movement in Gaza.
While the agreement in Doha was not the first public display of reconciliation between leaders of the largest Palestinian factions, many felt that this time, the agreement was for real. Why?
To begin with the Doha agreement resolved a major obstacle that has been haunting both sides for months, namely, who will be the interim prime minister until elections take place. Previously, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fateh Party had insisted on the need to keep Salam Fayyad as prime minister in order not to anger Western countries or Israel. Hamas had adamantly refused and the talks were deadlocked.
If Hamas didn’t accept Fayyad, who is not a member of Fateh, why would they accept Abbas, who is the leader of Fateh? Furthermore, why did Abbas himself agree even though he was reportedly nominated for this position before and had rejected it?
Abbas had announced months earlier that he is not planning to run in the upcoming presidential elections. At the time, few took him seriously, but he has remained consistent in his determination not to run. By accepting the added position of prime minister for a short interim period in which a totally non-partisan government will be established to supervise elections, Abbas’ position is sealed. As much as they might think that he is the leader of their opponents, Hamas leaders know that it was under Abbas’ rule that the last elections took place. The 2006 elections in which pro-Hamas legislators won the majority of the seats of the Palestinian Legislative Council were declared by all to be free and fair.
But while Abbas’ role will ensure free elections this summer, other issues helped seal the most recent deal: Money.
While the agreement between Hamas leader Khaled Mishaal and Abbas didn’t include any talk about money, most observers are certain that Qatar’s cash was a major reason for the agreement. Hamas, which has been distancing itself from the Bashar Assad government because of its violence against fellow Muslim Brotherhood activists in Syria, has found itself losing financial support from Syria’s major ally, Iran. Without Iranian funding, running the Gaza Strip has become much more difficult.
Funding for the Ramallah-based Palestinian government has also been a problem of late. After the Palestinian leadership decided to go to the UN to seek recognition, US and other Western funding has dried up leaving Arab funding as the only alternative. It was no coincidence this week that Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo pledged to provide the Palestinian Authority with an estimated $100 million a month to help it cover the cost of salaries both in the West Bank and Gaza.
However, it is unlikely that this amount, or even a fraction of it, will actually be transferred to the Palestinian Authority if the reconciliation is not carried out.