WASHINGTON, March 15 (UPI) -- Putting an end to months of bitter and often bloody clashes, the two main rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, are reported to have reached an agreement to form a government of national unity.
The clashes involving guns and anti-tank weapons have left many killed and caused deep scars between the Islamic Resistance Movement, otherwise known as Hamas, and the mainstream Palestinian faction of President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah. Still, the two groups announced Thursday they have reached an accord on the composition of a new government. Hamas would hold 15 of the 25 cabinet seats, including the prime ministership which Hamas' Ismail Hanieh would retain.
For the Palestinians, and particularly for Hamas, this announcement comes at an opportune moment -- just before an Arab summit is due to be held in Saudi Arabia later this month.
The outcome of Hamas and Fatah agreeing to place aside their differences means that both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Hanieh will travel to Saudi Arabia to attend the summit hosted by King Abdullah.
Hamas' participation in an Arab summit would be seen as its formal recognition by the rest of the Arab world as a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. This could possibly pave the way for an eventual recognition by the international community sometime down the road.
Indeed, this is the first baby step on a long road in legitimizing the Islamist movement which still finds itself listed as a terrorist group by Israel and the United States.
France was quick to react, recognizing the new Palestinian government. A congratulatory message from French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy to his Palestinian counterpart Dr. Ziad Abu Amr, reiterates France's backing of the Mecca agreement and the formation of the new government of national unity.
However the French foreign minister's congratulations may be somewhat premature as it assumes that the Palestinian government will accept the "full commitment to honor the PLO and the Palestinian Authority's resolutions and international commitments." The Mecca accord, wrote Douste-Blazy to his Palestinian colleague, "is indeed a first important step towards the full respect of the Quartet's three principles, which remains France's and the whole international community's objective."
In a somewhat optimistic note, France's top diplomat stated that "France considers the appointment of the new Palestinian government is conducive to opening a new page in relations between the international community and this government." This means that Hamas is expected to renounce violence, recognize Israel's right to exist and arrange for the immediate release of Cpl. Gilad Shalit who was kidnapped in Gaza last summer.
But not so fast. If the Palestinians have solved their problems -- albeit temporarily -- Israel said it rejects the new national unity government.
The new Palestinian government has not agreed to explicitly recognize Israel's right to exist, prompting the Jewish state's immediate reaction. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Mark Regev said his country would not deal with the new government in the Palestinian territories and would urge the international community to do the same.
And if the Palestinians are not united, neither are the Israelis by any means, particularly when it comes to dealing with the Palestinians.
Israel's YNet News reports that right-wing member of the Knesset Zevulun Orlev said "the Abbas-Haniyeh accord demonstrates Palestinian unity in favor of continued terror, pursuit of Hamas' goal to destroy Israel."
While on the other side of the aisle, Meretz MK Yossi Beilin said "the accord is a rare opportunity to achieve a breakthrough in the political process."
Orlev said, "Instead of speaking hesitatingly, saying yes and then no, and zigzagging about the transfer of funds to the PA and the removal of roadblocks -- despite the fact that fewer roadblocks make it easer for terrorists to move around -- the government must take a determined stand and put a stop to the slide towards international recognition of the terrorist-unity government."
The former foreign minister in the Likud government accused the new Hamas-dominated government of being a "wolf in sheep's clothing, intended to make it easier for the international community to 'swallow' Hamas. It's a subterfuge."
But it would appear that the onus is once again on the Palestinians. If they can prove to the world to have placed terrorism behind, recognize the state of Israel and engage in dialogue of peace, hundreds of millions of dollars and euros withheld from the PA will start flowing back in to territories. But the recent history of the Middle East has demonstrated that the dogs of war always managed to out-maneuver the gods of peace. Or as Aba Eban, the father of Israel's foreign diplomacy used to say about the Arabs, "They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."
This would be a good opportunity for the Palestinians prove that piece of historic luggage wrong once and for all.
(Comments may be sent to Claude@upi.com.)