Doha Replaces Cairo as Center for Palestinian Negotiations

Article Summary
The Hamas-Fatah accord establishing a Palestinian unity government to be lead by Mahmoud Abbas is a solid step towards elections, administrative reform and overcoming the obstacles to Inter-Palestinian cooperation. It also signals Qatar’s increasingly assertive leadership in regional affairs, writes Salah Salah.

A number of reconciliation accords between [Palestinian political factions] Fatah and Hamas have been signed in Arab capitals like Damascus, Mecca, Sana’a and Cairo. During the rule of Egyptian President [Hosni] Mubarak, and thanks to the efforts his intelligence officer Omar Suleiman, a consensus reigned that [Cairo] should be the only [capital] responsible for this issue.

The series of meetings held between Egyptian [officials] with some factions in Cairo, Ramallah and Gaza were at the heart of the so-called reconciliation conference. There is hope that [this accord] will [mark] the end of [inter-Palestinian] strife and the beginning of a new phase, defined by cohesion among all Palestinian factions, including those based in Damascus. [The Palestinian factions in Damascus]  are part of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), but do not participate in the rest of its leadership bodies (Central Council, Executive Committee). The role [of these bodies] is limited to legitimizing the attitudes and policies taken by the leadership and its negotiators.

However, the fate of the agreement signed by all [Palestinian] factions during the reconciliation conference will fare no better than those of the agreements signed in other Arab capitals.

There are two notable problems standing in the way of the agreement.

First is the formation of a government of technocrats. [Fatah and Hamas] need to agree on an "independent" prime minister and [independent] ministers, given that Hamas and some Fatah wings do not want to keep Salam Fayyad as prime minister. However, [Palestinian Authority] President Mahmoud Abbas is keen on keeping him. Moreover, it is essential that the new government comply with the conditions that will help it be [recognized] internationally.

The second problem is over the elections. First, there will be no elections prior to the formation of a unified government to oversee them in the Palestinian Authority (PA) controlled areas of Gaza and the West Bank. Another issue is that Israel can disrupt the elections. Indeed, the 2006 [elections] would not have taken place were it not for the consent of Israel.

[The results of the conference in Qatar] are key to finding solutions to the unresolved problems impeding the implementation of the Cairo reconciliation agreement. The agreement that was reached on having Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] assume the role of prime minister will facilitate the resolution of all other problems [facing the two factions], for the following reasons:

1.  It will be easy to agree on the members of a government whose main responsibility - as the agreement stipulates - will be to oversee elections.

2.  The fact that Qatar announced that [the agreement] was reached through the sponsorship of the Emir, the efforts of the Crown Prince and a follow-up from the Prime Minister, infers that there is US-Israeli approval of holding elections in Gaza and the West Bank.

3.  This government can easily be [recognized] internationally, especially by the Quartet [international body charged with mitigating Israeli-Palestinian crisis], since it has practically pre-committed itself to (the Quartet’s) terms. These include the recognition of Israel, a commitment to all [previous] agreements reached since the Oslo [Accords] and a continuation of efforts to reach a political solution through negotiations.

4.  For Abu-Mazen to become prime minister of a government [responsible] for overseeing presidential and parliamentary elections means that he will not run for the upcoming presidency. Perhaps this will reassure Hamas, and allow it to take on a direct or indirect role in the next presidential elections.

5.  The Qatar agreement raises substantial doubts over the elections for the Palestinian National Council, especially the section [in the document] that reads “the Legislative Council elections will be associated with a restructuring of the Palestinian National Council.” Does this mean that the same misguided previous approach will be adopted in forming the Palestinian National Council? The [current] quota system damages democracy and deprives the Palestinian diaspora, immigrants and refugees from selecting their leadership.

6.  The fact that the announcement came out of Qatar might point to the fact that [Qatar] wants to convey a message to Syria, Egypt and anyone else, that Doha is the [de facto] reference, sponsor and custodian of all issues and problems in the Arab region, and that any role played by another Arab capital is complementary to the role played by the central capital [of the region], Doha.

7.  The announcement could represent the exit sought by Hamas to step down from the leadership of the government [in Gaza], which has resulted in pressure being placed on it and demands being made of it that it cannot meet, including recognition of the State of Israel.

The “Qatar announcement” is simply an announcement of [Qatar’s] engagement in the Palestinian issue. This should provoke a level of caution when considering the possible initiatives and the political and financial projects that it may undertake [on behalf of the Palestinians]. [Its role will become all the more important now that Israel] has slammed the door in the face of Palestinian negotiators and the US has threatened to cut off financial aid to the PA. 

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