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Unity deal: First step on long path for Fatah and Hamas

Analysts state reasons why Fatah and Hamas agreed to sign the reconciliation agreement deal in Cairo

AFP , Wednesday 4 May 2011
Palestinians release balloons in the colors of the Palestinian flag during a rally celebrating the signing of a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas, in the West Bank city of Ramallah (Photo: AP)
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Palestinian rivals Fatah and Hamas each have reasons for ensuring a new unity deal is implemented, but they have a long path fraught with pitfalls ahead of them, analysts say.

For Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, uniting the divided Palestinian polity is key to moving forward with a push for international recognition, according to Palestinian political analyst Abdelmajid Suleim.

"Abu Mazen (Abbas) wants to go the UN in September with a unified Palestinian front. It's very important for him to convince the international community that the Palestinians have a single leadership," he told AFP.

Samir Awad, a political science professor at Bir Zeit University in the West Bank, added that "now Abu Mazen can go to the United Nations to call with a single Palestinian voice for the recognition of a Palestinian state."

For Hamas, the deal comes as pressure on the Islamist group rises inside Gaza, where Palestinians feel cut off from the outside world and increasingly frustrated with their divided political leadership.

A March poll found 67 per cent of Palestinians in Gaza support protests to change the regime and 50 percent said they were willing to take part.

In the West Bank, 36 per cent supported such protests and just 24 percent said they would participate.

The poll was taken after uprisings overthrew regimes in Egypt and Tunisia and tens of thousands of Palestinians responded to calls from a youth movement by taking to the streets on March 15 and call for a unity deal.

"The situation this time is different than during previous (reconciliation) attempts, when the pressure for reconciliation came from regional powers," Awad said.

"Now the pressure comes from Palestinian demonstrations in the streets."

One of the organisers of the March 15 movement, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said he expected the two sides would make the agreement work, in part because of the pressure they face from Palestinian public opinion.

"I expect that it will succeed because we told the two sides, if we have another division, the party responsible will pay, we will go to the streets.

"We hope that they know that reconciliation is a step from which there is no turning back," he said.

But he acknowledged the deal leaves many issues unresolved.

"It is a positive thing, but it must be brought to life," he said.

"Things remain to be clarified, such as the elections," which the agreement envisions within a year of the accord's signing on Tuesday.

Suleim echoed his caution, warning "the application of the deal is very complicated and will be threatened if there is not agreement on the principles of the new government."

Issues remaining to be tackled include the integration of rival security forces and a reorganisation of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

In the immediate term though, Palestinian officials will be working to ensure the deal does not lead to crippling financial sanctions, after Israel responded by suspending the transfer of Palestinian tax revenues.

"From an economic point of view, the agreement depends on relations with Israel and the United States," said Nasser Abdel Karim, an economist at Bir Zeit University.

But he said the accord could also lead to better relations with Arab countries, some of which decreased their aid to the Palestinians in part because of the division, and might now be willing to boost funds once again.

Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad, who looks likely to lose his post when the new government is announced, nonetheless hailed the agreement and called for its terms to be implemented quickly.

"It's a very happy moment, the signing of the agreement by the Palestinian factions," he told reporters in the West Bank town of Ramallah on Wednesday, while acknowledging it was only "a first step."

"All the world will see that the Palestinian Authority is going forward in one direction and this issue is very important," he said. "It's very important now to begin immediately to have a procedure on the ground."

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