The response of the government of Israel
On March 18 the government of Israel met to discuss the Palestinian national unity government and its platform. An examination of the platform showed that â€œit does not accept the principles of the international community,â€ therefore â€œ Israel will not be able to work with the government or any of its ministers.â€ However, â€œ Israel will continue to work with Mahmoud Abbas in order to advance issues of security and issues pertaining to improving the quality of life of the Palestinian population.â€ The government also noted that â€œ Israel expects the international community to maintain the policy it has taken over the past year of isolating the Palestinian government until it recognizes the three principles of the Quartet.â€
Summary and assessment
The Palestinian national unity government reflects, first and foremost, Hamas and Fatah's desire (and in fact the desire of the entire Palestinian population) to put an end to the violence and anarchy which increased during the past year and to establish a stable, functioning Palestinian government. To that end Hamas agreed to give up three key government ministries to independents, and to let Fatah have a series of ministries as well, although they are less important. In return Hamas received the stamp of approval from Abu Mazen and Fatah that it had sought since its victory in the January 2006 election. In addition, there is a possibility that the Palestinian government will break out of its isolation (without Hamas's giving up its control of the government and its extremist ideology).
In addition to achieving the main goals of internal quiet and an end to the violence and anarchy, which plagued the PA for the past year, the Palestinians seek to market the new national unity government to the international community. They hope to have the economic and political embargo lifted, even though the government is influenced by Hamas and its ideology and even though it has not met the demands of the Quartet, central to which are recognition of the right of the State of Israel to exist and the abandoning of terrorism.
Their efforts to market the new government have taken various forms. Using convoluted rhetoric in setting out its basic principles, Hamas has tried to camouflage the new government's extremist nature and give the Western countries something to hold on to. They have appointed ministers who are not affiliated with Hamas and who are acceptable to the United States and Europe to important government posts. They have warned that if the government did not receive international support the situation was liable to deteriorate and that the PA and the Palestinian economy would collapse. They have enlisted Abu Mazen (who continues to call for peace, coexistence and a renewal of negotiations) to seek international legitimization for the new government and its platform.
Initial international reactions (especially from European countries such as Norway , France and Britain ) are likely to reinforce Palestinian expectations that it will be possible to sell the new national unity government, with its extremist principles, to the international community.
However, the basic differences of opinion between Fatah and Hamas have not been resolved, and anarchy still exits within the PA. As negotiations for the establishment of the national unity government were being held, there were violent confrontations between Fatah and Hamas (although not widespread) until the last minute (March 17), and signs of anarchy. Thus it can be seen that the basic tensions between Fatah and Hamas and the difficulties of instituting law and order in Palestinian society still exist . The power struggles between Fatah and Hamas have not been clearly won and it can be expected that the rival sides will continue to seek as great an advantage as possible over one another within the government despite the Mecca Accord and the establishment of the national unity government.
A list of controversial issues still remains, such as the future of the Executive Force, control of the security forces and integrating Hamas into the PLO. They will continue as focal points of friction between the two sides and may lead to political tensions and even a renewal of the violence, which will make it difficult for the national unity government to function.
* The Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which is not represented in the Palestinian Legislative Council and which did not participate in the elections, is not committed to supporting the new government and its platform. The PIJ and the other terrorist organizations can be expected to continue carrying out terrorist attacks, including rocket and suicide bombing attacks.
PIJ spokesman Daoud Shehab said that his organization had many reservations regarding the new government's platform, but that the PIJ's position would be examined primarily according to the governmental support and reinforcement it gave the â€œresistance.â€ It is understood that his organization clearly has no intention of stopping its terrorist attacks (Al-Aqsa TV, March 17). Since the establishment of the government there have already been a number of attacks initiated from the Gaza Strip, including rocket attacks and a Hamas sniper attack at the Dekalim terminal near Kibbutz Nahal Oz, in which an Israeli civilian was critically wounded.