Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement was quick Sunday to ease fears regarding a decision to postpone a meeting between Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal that had been planned for Tuesday in Cairo.
Fatah officials said the decision had to do with Abbas’ busy schedule and did not necessarily mean the reconciliation process between the two rival factions is faltering.
Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement early in May after four years of bitter and sometimes violent rivalry. The agreement called for establishing a unity government with the goal of holding general elections within a year and to rebuild the Gaza Strip, devastated after five years of the Israeli blockade and military assaults.
Forming the unity government has become a stumbling block in the reconciliation effort. Fatah wants current Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to run the new government because it believes the Western-backed Fayyad will be able to prevent an international blockade against the new government because of Hamas involvement. Hamas, however, does not trust Fayyad.
When the two sides failed to agree on a prime minister during their meeting last week, they called on Abbas and Meshaal to sit together to resolve the issue.
Azzam Ahmad, who heads Fatah's delegation to the reconciliation talks and who announced the postponement after meeting Abbas in Ramallah, insisted that it was Abbas’ busy schedule that had led to the delay.
Abbas is going to be in Turkey on Wednesday and then in Strasbourg, France, on Thursday to address the European Parliament. Ahmad said it was better to give the two leaders time to discuss the complex issue without any interruptions. For this reason, it was believed better to postpone the meeting rather than risk having to end it before an agreement is reached.
Hamas did not seem too thrilled with the postponement. Hamas' leader in Gaza, Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, said Sunday that "we were ready for this meeting and we wanted it to tackle all issues in order to have a government of conciliation."
Damascus-based Hamas official, Izzat Rishk, a hard-liner, said Fatah postponed the meeting because it could not get Hamas to agree to Fayyad as prime minister.
Abbas has a lot to risk if the new government is run by a prime minister who is not acceptable to the United States and Europe. Israel is already threatening to again stop transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority. It collects over $100 million in customs duties and taxes on Palestinian-imported goods coming through it ports. These funds account for two-thirds of the monthly salaries of Palestinian public employees, and 150,000 employees will go unpaid if Israel halts remittance.
In a news conference Sunday with the president of the Dominican Republic in Ramallah, Abbas reiterated that the new government would follow his policies, which is based on reaching a solution to the Middle East conflict based on peaceful negotiations with Israel and that will continue the policies of Fayyad’s West Bank-based government.
Hamas does not seem to object, but it does not want Fayyad to be the key person in the new government.
— Maher Abukhater in Ramallah, West Bank