Seating Spat Solved, Palestinians Form Unity Government

Who sat where on the podium could have foreign policy implications

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The rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas officially agreed today in Cairo to establish a Palestinian unity government, ending a four-year schism during which Hamas controlled the Gaza Strip and the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority controlled the West Bank (in the photo above, a Palestinian celebrates the reconciliation deal in Gaza City). News reports this morning suggest several different lenses through which you can view the news:

  • The Details: The Palestinians will form an interim government to run Gaza and the West Bank, and will hold a general election within a year. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas informed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he must choose between peace and the construction of Jewish settlements on Palestinian territory, and reiterated his goal of winning U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state in September, according to the AP. Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said his party's "only fight is with Israel" and his goal was to "establish a free and completely sovereign Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, whose capital is Jerusalem, without any settlers and ... without giving up on the right of return [of Palestinian refugees]," according to Al Jazeera. Abbas said Hamas won't need to recognize Israel as part of the deal.
  • The Seat Squabble: Hamas and Fatah still need to iron out thorny issues like how they'll share security responsibilities and maintain international aid (given that the U.S., the E.U., and Israel consider Hamas a terrorist organization), and a bumpy start to the signing ceremony didn't exactly inspire confidence in the partnership. The ceremony was delayed when a dispute erupted over whether Hamas's Meshaal should sit on the podium with Fatah's Abbas, Reuters explains. Israel's Haaretz says the spat has foreign policy implications: Abbas wanted to sit alone on the dais to underline his status as president and presumptive head of the new government. "Fatah's foreign policy includes negotiating toward a peace agreement with Israel, something which Hamas opposes," Haaretz writes.
  • The Israeli Reaction: Netanyahu, who has stopped collecting tax revenue on behalf of the Palestinians in response to the deal, declared that the Hamas-Fatah agreement "strikes a serious blow to the peace process. How is it possible to achieve peace with a government, half of which calls for the destruction of Israel and even praises the arch-murderer Osama bin Laden?" But Haaretz is also reporting that a confidential report by Israel's Foreign Ministry has suggested the deal actually represents a "strategic opportunity" for Israel to coordinate security with the Palestinian Authority and demand that the international community establish detailed requirements for a new Palestinian government.
  • The International Community's Reaction: Tony Blair, who represents the "Mideast Quartet" (the U.S., E.U., U.N., and Russia) stated that the new Palestinian government must recognize Israel's right to exist and renounce violence, and that Hamas must have "a change of heart" regarding Israel.

Photo by Reuters

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