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February 9, 2007
Haven't We Heard This Before?

The warring factions in the Palestinian Authority have declared their impasse at an end, as Hamas leadership reached an agreement with Fatah president Mahmoud Abbas for a power-sharing agreement. PM Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas' international leader Khaled Mashaal agreed to split the ministries, but the endorsement of prior treaties signed by the PLO and recognition of Israel may not follow from that -- which means aid will likely not be restored:

The two main Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, reached "full agreement" on a national unity government that will include ministers from both groups during crisis talks yesterday in the holy Islamic city of Mecca.

But while the decision on the cabinet posts represented progress, there was no agreement on persuading Hamas to accept existing peace treaties with Israel signed by earlier Palestinian administrations.

Acceptance by Hamas of these accords, with their explicit recognition of the right of Israel to exist, is one of the key demands from the international community if it is to end its financial boycott of the Hamas-led Palestinian government.

Abbas apparently offered to absorb Hamas into the PLO and make Mashaal his deputy within the organization. That would have brought Hamas into agreement with the PLO's treaties with Israel without having to explicitly endorse them, saving a bit of face for Mashaal and Haniyeh. Instead, Hamas issued a vague promise to "respect" past agreements after rejecting more specific language renouncing violence and recognizing Israel.

That should sound alarms for the West. The net result of this agreement does not appear to have moved Hamas towards legitimacy, but instead pushed the Palestinian Authority towards more extremism. In this case, the blend will increase the strength of the radical Islamists, the people whom Israel understandably believes will never make peace with their state. And without a specific renunciation of violence and terrorism, we can expect more of both with the combined forces of the Islamist and semi-secular terrorist groups in the territories.

The news is not all bad. The cessation of internecine violence in the territories may keep pressure on the new government to expand the peace, but the history of the region shows that to be a long shot. Usually, a period of unity for the Palestinians results in stepped-up violence against Israel. More promising is the split of the ministries. Three or four of the positions, depending on the report, will wind up in the hands of independent parties, which could help develop leadership outside of the terrorist paradigm, depending on who winds up with the ministries.

Overall, though, this will not provide the panacea that the West believed, and Israel and the US are both correct in acting cautiously. The West needs to remain firm in its insistence that the PA has to recognize Israel and renounce terrorism and violence before restarting aid and moving forward in the peace process. At this point, all this agreement does is to slap fresh paint on a death machine.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at February 9, 2007 4:48 AM

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