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A patchy peace deal

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It would be naive to think that the agreement reached by Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas in the Saudi city of Mecca last week is a silver bullet for ending the internecine battle between them. The two groups have been involved in a bitter power struggle since Hamas defeated Fatah in the January 2006 polls, and it looks likely that the new deal could lead to the formation of a national unity government. From all accounts, the current Prime Minister and Hamas leader, Ismail Haniya, will head the new government, with Hamas getting nine posts, Fatah six, and other factions four. Some sensitive posts will probably go to independents.

The apparent volte-face by Hamas leaders, who had earlier dismissed the idea of such a government when Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas first suggested it as a solution to end the power struggle, is not surprising. Militancy and pragmatism always co-existed within the Hamas, whose leaders are careful not to be seen acting against Palestinian national interest. And they would have been perceived as doing just that if they continued the infighting. So the organisation has plumped for Fatah’s participation in the new government. It also makes practical sense not to bear sole responsibility for the PA’s notorious economic, social and political failures. But a more obvious reason for Hamas’ change of heart is the potential of a unity government to encourage the international community to lift its economic and political sanctions imposed on the Palestinian cabinet. Mr Abbas always insisted that a national unity government would be the best bet to win the support of the so-called Middle East Quartet (the US, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia) and enable the resumption of economic aid to Palestine.

Having said that, it’s doubtful if the international community would readily endorse an inter-Palestinian compromise compact that fails to recognise Israel, renounce violence, and formally accept existing peace agreements. The Mecca agreement evidently doesn’t, and this, alas, could only spell more bad news for the Palestinians.