Jerusalem, Nov. 16 – Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has agreed to form a national unity government with the Iran-backed Hamas terrorist movement in a deal that will apparently force the pro-Western Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to resign.
Fayyad, an American-trained economist trusted by western governments and who supports negotiations with Israel, has done more than any other Palestinian leader both to build up the West Bank economy and to fight corruption in the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The future of the moribund peace process remains in jeopardy, with Abbas scheduled to meet Hamas leaders in Cairo later this month. The two sides are expected to finalize plans for elections next May and form an interim government under which Abbas’ political party Fatah will share power with Hamas, the terrorist organization which aims to destroy Israel. A key Hamas condition is the resignation of Fayyad, who supports the peace process and the two-state solution.
The Palestinians have not had elections since 2006 when Hamas claimed electoral victory. Hamas opposes the peace process and controls Gaza, from where terrorist have fired thousands of rockets against Israeli civilians. Two more rockets were fired from Gaza at Israel Tuesday, bringing the total this year to 613 rockets that have killed 4 civilians and wounded scores more.
The 2006 elections were followed by a bloody coup in which Hamas seized power in Gaza from Fatah. The diplomatic Quartet comprised of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations subsequently imposed economic sanctions on the PA, demanding Hamas stop its armed attacks against Israel and accept the peace process.
In the wake of the coup, Abbas appointed Fayyad prime minister in the West Bank in 2007, but Hamas in Gaza never recognized the appointment and continues to insist that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh is the Palestinian prime minister.
The Fatah-Hamas struggle is one of the factors that have kept Israeli-Palestinian peace talks stalled for several years. Another victory at the polls by Hamas may spell the end of the peace process, as Hamas leaders have repeatedly rejected peace negotiations and said they would “never” recognize Israel.