The two Palestinian factions, long known for — indeed, substantially defined by — their mutual loathing, kissed and made up to great fanfare in May. PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal were supposed to meet in Cairo this Tuesday so they could announce the composition of their new unity government.
They couldn’t agree on a prime minister, though, so the meeting was called off.
The talks collapsed because Abbas, displaying some vestigial backbone (or perhaps some shrewd political gamesmanship), refused to bow to Hamas’s demand that PA prime minister Salam Fayyad be thrown under the bus.
Abbas recognizes that Fayyad’s image as a forward-thinking, Westernized, moderate Muslim would go far toward easing American apprehensions about the unity government. This is a serious matter, since the US is hinting that it will pull the money as long as Fatah remains allied with an organization that refuses to renounce its goal of completely destroying Israel. Hamas, dependably, can’t see past its hatred of Fayyad, no matter what it costs them. “Salam Fayyad is a criminal who should be put on trial,” said Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas official, quoted in The New York Times. “He has tortured our people in prison. He is not acceptable to anyone in Hamas.”
This failure strikes a serious blow — perhaps the coup de grâce — to Abbas’s plan to shoot for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood at the UN this fall. Which is probably just as well as far as the Palestinians are concerned, since the statehood gambit — which would kill peace talks with Israel for the indefinite future — represents as great a danger to American financial support of the Palestinians as the alliance with Hamas.
The failure of the talks on the unity government could presage an announcement that the statehood push will be postponed. It may well be the only way Abbas can climb down from the tree he’s in.