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Hamas Undermines Positive Spin on Reconciliation Deal

Comments from a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip are undermining attempts by the Palestinian Authority to explain the positive side of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation agreement. PA President Mahmoud Abbas been arguing that he will be in command of the new unity government which will by extension be understood to accept the conditions set forth by the Quartet (US, UN, EU, Russia): recognition of Israel; forswearing of violence; and acceptance of prior agreements. But on Tuesday, veteran Hamas official Mahmoud A-Zahar told the Reuters news agency that Hamas fighters will not answer to Abbas and Hamas will never acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. He said that Abbas will take his time in naming an interim cabinet comprised of technocrats so he can wait for the pressure to blow over. In particular, according to A-Zahar, Abbas “is waiting for a guarantee that US financial support will continue.” The Hamas leader told Reuters that, “Abbas is not telling them the truth. He says 'this is my government'. But it is not his government. It is a government of national unity. He is marketing it in this way to minimize the pressure.” The remarks by A-Zahar seem to indicate that the issue of who controls the armed forces – the deal-breaker that prevented implementation of two previous reconciliation agreements – is no closer to resolution than before.  A-Zahar’s blunt admission also creates more problems for those in Washington who are looking for a way to circumvent legal restrictions on providing aid to a government that includes an entity listed by the State Department as a terrorist organization, such as Hamas. The idea that Hamas would have to accept the Quartet guidelines appears to be a non-starter. Meanwhile, in Washington on Tuesday, Assistant Secretary for the Near East Anne Patterson, speaking to a House committee, said, “Let me be utterly clear about our policy towards Hamas. No US governmental money will go into any government that includes Hamas until Hamas accepts the Quartet conditions.”