Analysis: Palestinian president's dilemma


JERUSALEM, Oct. 5 (UPI) -- Gaza journalist Khaled Azeizeh Tuesday described life there: "You don't know who is shooting whom. Fatah, Hamas, or armed (bands). Everyone has a weapon. We've become accustomed to... the music of death: The sounds of shots, the thunder of bombs, and the ambulances' sirens," he told Yediot Aharonot.

It has been fairly quiet in the past two days, but violence goes through ups and downs and an Israeli analyst was concerned the next round would engulf the West Bank.


The analyst, Jonathan Fighel, of the International Policy Institute for Counter Terrorism, said the nationalist Fatah had the upper hand in the West Bank this week but the Islamic Hamas is reportedly smuggling arms there.

The fighting reflected the Fatah-Hamas power struggle following the failed National Dialogue.

That dialogue was expected to produce a National Unity Government comprising Fatah, Hamas and other parties. Its platform was supposed to seem palatable to the Quartet -- the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations -- so that they would resume aid.


The Quartet wants the Palestinian government to renounce violence, honor all agreements, and accept Israel's existence.

The proposed text fell short of that and President Mahmoud Abbas' attempts to sell it to the world failed when Hamas reiterated its stances.

"We have to start from square one," Abbas acknowledged.

The issue is pressing because the international community has frozen aid in an attempt to force the Palestinian government to accept the Quartet's demands. Israel has been withholding tax money collected on the Palestinians behalf. Consequently Palestinian civil servants and security men have not been paid for seven months.

Unemployment soared to more than 50 percept, gross domestic product dropped by more than 60 percent, and the missing financial transfers have been costing the Palestinian economy some $180 million a month, said Fatah's spokesman Walid Awad.

Professor Roger Heacock, of Bir Zeit University in the West Bank said Abbas, "Is very weak. He has always been. He is very hesitant. It is not his nature to take radical choices."

However, the United States and his own hardliners are pressing for decisive measures to change the government.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met Abbas Wednesday in Ramallah. Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erakat told United Press International Rice had promised "everything will move" if the Palestinians form a unity government that meets the Quartet's principles.


Abbas is willing to go along with that. "Any government to be formed has to honor... all kinds of agreements that were signed in the past between the Palestinian Authority and the other party," he told reporters in an obvious reference to Israel. "Up to this moment there are no indications that these conditions are going to be met," he said.

He allowed two more weeks for talks on a new government before using his "constitutional powers."

An aide to the president, Ali Sawafta, said Abbas might go for early elections or form an emergency government. One of the ideas was to form a government of experts.

However unseating Hamaas might ignite clashes. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said he is ready for talks, but gave no deadline.

The Palestinian people "need not to go to new elections... (This is) a rejected idea," Hamas' website added.

Recent public opinion polls give Abbas no reason to push for early elections. Fatah's lead is small.

According to the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 38 percent would have voted Hamas if elections were held last month and 41 percent for Fatah. That's close to the margin of error.


A Jerusalem Media and Communications Center poll showed 30.5 percent would have voted Hamas and 32 percent Fatah.

Rice has tried to bolster Abbas. At a press conference in Ramallah she noted that much of the talk at a meeting with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and six Gulf states, in Cairo, Tuesday, was about, "How to support President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority... a government that... observes the Quartet principles."

The United States got humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people, despite the freeze on financial transfers, and "that's, in large part, because of our respect for President Abbas and what he's trying to do," she said.

In other words she told Palestinians: Abbas got you the aid, not Hamas.

Wednesday night and Thursday Rice met, separately, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, and Defense Minister Amir Peretz.

She got them to open crossings to the Gaza Strip, and Peretz said he would support an American plan to build a new crossing to Gaza.

Olmert's media adviser, Miri Eisin, Wednesday told the Foreign Press Association he was looking for ways to bolster the Palestinian moderates without giving prizes to the extremists. Olmert had planned to release prisoners in June but the kidnapping of Cpl. Gilad Shalit stopped that move.


Abbas "is in a terrific dilemma," Heacock observed. Abbas sincerely doesn't want a civil war, sincerely wants to form a national unity government, "but realizes he can't. They haven't found the formula yet."

Awad told UPI Abbas expected public pressure to get some Hamas members to accept his demands. In the meantime the United States should tread carefully, he suggested. Everybody knows what Washington wants but any public pressure "seems like the Americans are dictating to the president and (that) does not work will with the Palestinian public," he said.

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