Jun 18 2014

Netanyahu fails to derail Palestinian unity government

Published by at 1:46 pm under Articles,Palestinian politics


By Daoud Kuttab

In the end, it was quite easy. The new Palestinian unity government won international recognition and validation despite Israel’s attempts to put a spoke in the wheel. Its failure to derail the unity government exposed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who suddenly has had his bluff called off. Even the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobby issued a weak statement calling on Congress simply to “ensure that US law is followed.”

The Israeli leader, who lived in the United States for some time and regularly boasts to friends that he knows the country as well as any Israeli, appears to have overreached. Instead of isolating the new Palestinian government headed by Rami Hamdallah, he has himself been isolated.

To justify the demand that the world community not recognize the newly established Palestinian government, Netanyahu had to jump a few political hoops. Unable to attack the cabinet for its membership, Netanyahu launched a direct attack against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for creating a cabinet that is backed by Hamas. This was followed by a barrage of information about how bad Hamas is, and that it is declared a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe.

Netanyahu’s claim was either based on wrong information, or simply yet another case of overreach and hope that loud words in Israel will find traction in Washington.

Initially, it was suggested by Hamas that the new unity government would be presented to a group session of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) for a vote of confidence. Abbas and his negotiator Azzam al-Ahmad never agreed to this Hamas request. After all, the 2006 Palestinian legislature has a majority from the pro-Hamas Change and Reform bloc headed by senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. The former speaker of the PLC, Abdel Aziz Dweik, a Hamas supporter, would also, in theory, have to retake his position. According to the Palestinian basic law, the PLC speaker would be next in line if something were to befall Abbas. Neither the president nor the Fatah movement were interested in that.

The reduced 16-member cabinet — minus three members not allowed by Israel to travel from the Gaza Strip — were sworn in before Abbas on June 2. In his public comments, the Palestinian president said that the “dark page” of the split was over.

It might be too early to predict whether the reconciliation represents the total surrender of Hamas, or whether we are seeing a more pragmatic Hamas that will follow the Hezbollah example of combining ballots and bullets.

The attempts by the right-wing Israeli leader to change the goal posts have failed to gain traction. In the end, the Netanyahu balloon was burst when a State Department official stated clearly that Washington will work with the new Palestinian government. Deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf was very direct in explaining why the United States will cooperate with the new order in Ramallah. “It is not a government backed by Hamas. There are no members of Hamas in the government,” she said.

What transpired in the few weeks leading to the swearing in of the second Hamdallah government debunks the myth that Israel has so much clout in Washington. Sure, a few Republican members of Congress will try to block aid to the new Palestinian government, but it will be hard to justify such a call with a Palestinian government that is committed to the two-state solution and is not much different from the one that existed before June 2.

Not only is the new Palestinian cabinet headed by the same prime minister, who is also interior minister, but it also has the same foreign minister in Riyad al-Malki and the same finance minister in Shukri Bishara. In fact, of the 16-member cabinet, only three low-level independent Palestinians were suggested by Hamas.

Netanyahu’s failure to stop the formation of the new government can be credited to Abbas succeeding in getting his way while denying almost all Hamas requests. It is clear that Abbas has presented to the world a truly independent government that no one can claim has the smell of Hamas in it. But this was known to Israel. They also must have known that Washington as well as the United Nations, the European Union and others would publicly endorse it. Has Netanyahu become a victim to his previous successes to the degree that he is blinded to what he can and cannot do?

This is not the first time in recent months that the Israeli leader has swung with all his might and badly missed. He had previously made a big scene about the talks with Iran only to have Washington and Europe refuse to play along, as the talks about Iran’s nuclear program have continued uninterrupted.

Netanyahu’s repeated attempts at crying wolf have fallen on deaf ears, sharply reducing his influence in major Western capitals.


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