Hamas, Fatah sign pact

A power-sharing pact between rival Palestinian factions aimed at ending months of infighting was met with cautious optimism on last week after Hamas vowed to “respect” past peace deals with Israel.

Hamas, which will head the new coalition government, gave the pledge on Feb. 8 after rejecting pressure from President Mahmoud Abbas, a leader of Fatah, to accept the stronger stance of “committing itself to” previous peace accords.

But the United States and Israel have demanded that the new government explicitly renounce violence, recognize Israel and agree to uphold past peace agreements. If the two countries reject Hamas’ pledge, the West is unlikely to lift a crippling financial blockade of the Palestinian government.

Shortly after Hamas won elections in January 2006, the quartet of Middle East mediators — the U.S., the UN, the European Union and Russia — said that future aid to a new Palestinian government led by Hamas “would be reviewed by donors against that government’s commitment to renounce violence,” recognize Israel and meet other requirements.

Israeli government spokeswoman Miri Eisin would not say whether Israel believed that the guidelines of the new government fulfilled those demands. U.S. State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said: “We’ll see what any final agreement actually looks like and we’ll have to make an evaluation from there.”

At stake is roughly $1 billion a year in frozen aid from foreign donors in addition to approximately $500 million in tax revenues which Israel collects on behalf of the Palestinians but is refusing to pass on.

Palestinians also hope that the agreement will avert an outright civil war. Clashes between Hamas and Fatah gunmen have killed 130 Palestinians since May and ceasefires have repeatedly failed.

President Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal led two days of intense negotiations in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

Both men called for an end to the infighting. Mashaal said, “I say to our young people that this is an agreement of the leadership of the biggest groups and none of you should accept any order from others to fire.”

— Morning Star