Despite the headlines last weekend that hailed Palestinian unity, it is not yet clear what conclusions were actually reached between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas political chief Khaled Meshal when they met in Cairo, apart of course from the decision to stand together, smile and wave for the perfunctory photo opportunity.
Quoting a Hamas spokesperson, Agence France Presse reported that Abbas and Meshal had decided against trying to form an interim government ahead of the general Palestinian elections that are expected to be held next May. But a spokesperson for Abbas denied this. Indeed, he added that negotiators from both sides would meet again next month to try to form a unity government.
The successful formation of a pre-election, interim, Palestinian unity government has been a major obstacle for the two factions, because Hamas does not agree that the incumbent PA prime minister, Salim Fayyad, should remain in the position. Fayyad is the Palestinian leader whom western nations most respect and trust, and it is for that very reason that the anti-western, pro-Iranian Hamas objects to him.
As the cameras clicked and the videotape rolled, Meshal said, “We want to assure our people and the Arab and Islamic world that we have turned a major new and real page in partnership on everything to do with the Palestinian nation.”
Those words cannot bring too much comfort to the people of Israel or to anyone else who fervently hopes that the Palestinians and the Israelis can soon reconcile. The words “in partnership on everything to do with the Palestinian nation” effectively confers a veto on moderation to the extremist Hamas Islamists, who have spurned every plea from the West to cast aside their violent ways and agree to recognize the State of Israel.
Abbas also added his own commentary on the meeting’s results. “There are no differences between us now,” he beamed.
Can he truly have meant that?
If he did, then he confirmed, to the sinking dismay of the large majority of Israelis that the result he ultimately seeks is not coexistence with the Jewish state, but rather its elimination. If Abbas did not actually mean what he plainly said, then he further justifies the doubts and the hesitations about his integrity and his blatant disdain for speaking truthfully. Sadly, too many leaders, too many individuals in Israel and in the West make allowances for Abbas and his constant dissimulation. They always cut him some “integrity slack” by saying it is necessary for him to behave this way when travelling the labyrinthian maze of intra-Palestinian politics.
But someone should hold Abbas to account. And if not, they should withhold surprise, disappointment and censure over the only Israeli response that makes sense under the circumstances.