According to Robert Serry, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, the so-called reconciliation deal reached by rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas to form a “unity” government in the coming weeks may be a good development that is consistent with continued peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. He reached this conclusion based on the word of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Mr. Serry said President Abbas assured him, during a meeting he held with President Abbas in Ramallah, that the reconciliation agreement will be implemented under President Abbas’s leadership and on the basis of previous commitments made by the Palestine Liberation Organization (“PLO”) regarding the recognition of Israel, non-violence and adherence to previous agreements entered into between the PLO and Israel. Mr. Serry provided this account of President Abbas’s stated assurances in his report to the UN Security Council on April 29th.
“On the basis of those commitments,” Mr. Serry told the Security Council, “the Secretary-General is of the view that this development can constitute an opening that offers, at long last, the prospect of reuniting the West Bank and Gaza under one legitimate Palestinian Authority, including by holding long-overdue elections.” He added that all factions are expected “to support this process as described by President Abbas, meaning they must commit in deeds, not only words, to this path, first and foremost by adhering to non-violence in the West Bank and in Gaza.”
Unfortunately, Mr. Serry did not bother to check directly as to what Hamas, Abbas’s “partner” to the reconciliation agreement, actually intends to do. He apparently has not spoken with any Hamas officials, as he had with Abbas. Even so, he would not have had to look very far to find out that Hamas is committed neither in deeds or words to the process as described by President Abbas, beginning with its continuing rejection of any pledge of non-violence.
On the very same day that Mr. Serry delivered his remarks to the Security Council, touting the “opportunity” the reconciliation agreement held open to advance the prospects for peace if the commitments cited by President Abbas are kept, Reuters reported on Hamas’s starkly contrasting perspective. It was offered by a highly influential Hamas strategist who participated in the unity negotiations, Mahmoud Al-Zahar.
“A Palestinian unity deal will not lead Islamist group Hamas to recognize Israel’s right to exist and will not result in any Gaza militants coming under President Mahmoud Abbas’s control,” Reuters reported Mr. Zahar to have declared. The Hamas honcho claimed that Abbas was not telling the truth – no surprise, considering that Abbas and his negotiators have consistently displayed a pattern of delays, diversions and deception as their negotiating strategy.
According to Reuters’ account of its interview with Mr. Zahar, he dismissed President Abbas’s pledge that the new unity agreement would recognize Israel and honor previous treaties as “a hollow gesture.” Zahar added that “Abbas is not telling them the truth. He says ‘this is my government’. But it is not his government. It is a government of national unity. He is marketing it in this way to minimize the pressure.”
Moreover, Hamas government spokesman Taher Nunu forcefully denied earlier in the week a report in the Washington Post that had attributed to him a quote to the effect that Hamas was prepared to soften its opposition to recognizing the state of Israel. “What I was quoted as telling the American paper is wrong, and I unequivocally deny it,” Nunu told the Palestinian Qudsnet news agency on April 27th. “The issue of Hamas recognizing Israel is a complete nonstarter… aimed primarily at weakening the movement’s positions on Israel.” Nunu even threatened to sue the Washington Post for its “false report.”
Mr. Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process, had all this reporting of Hamas’s position available to him. However, he apparently did not do his due diligence before delivering to the Security Council his spin on the reconciliation agreement, based solely on President Abbas’s assurances and the baseless expectation that “all factions” will be on board.
During the daily press briefing at UN headquarters on April 29th, I asked the Secretary General’s spokesperson whether Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has contemplated authorizing Mr. Serry to meet directly with the appropriate Hamas officials to get their direct assurance on the record that they in fact will abide by all existing commitments cited by President Abbas, including non-violence, if and when they join the unity government. I did not get a direct answer:
“Spokesman: Mr. Serry is also the Representative of the Secretary-General to the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). He meets with the Palestinian leadership. If there are other contacts, I would let you know; but he’s meeting with President Abbas as the President.
Question: But, in his report…he characterized the reconciliation, assuming that those three conditions that Mr. Abbas represented would be met were actually complied with; but the other partner to this reconciliation to make this successful is Hamas. So… so… maybe getting permission from Mr. Abbas or whatever [it] will take, wouldn’t it be constructive before commenting whether this reconciliation is positive or not to get assurances on the record from Hamas that they will abide by the conditions?
Spokesman: Mr. Serry has the contacts that he needs to have on the Palestinian side. He met with President Abbas and listened to what President Abbas had to say about the unity Government and we then reported on it.”
Hamas has no intention of renouncing violence as its primary tactic to achieve its jihadist goal, much less the intention of recognizing the state of Israel. Indeed, the prime minister of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh, praised just over two weeks ago the shooting allegedly committed by one or more Palestinian militants, resulting in the murder of an Israeli and the wounding of his wife and son as they drove through the West Bank on the way to a Passover Seder. Haniyeh said the attack “brought back life to the path of resistance” against Israel.
One day after Mr. Serry’s report to the Security Council, and a week after the signing of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation pact, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal announced that Hamas remains committed to violence against Israel. “Our path is resistance and the rifle and our choice is jihad,” he said. As of yet, there has been no unequivocal public denunciation of Khaled Mashaal’s threat, issued either by Mr. Serry or by any other senior UN official.
Hamas has not changed its tune since its 1988 founding charter, which calls for the destruction of the Jewish state and the killing of Jews. In Israel’s stead, Hamas, according to its charter, wants to enshrine “the land of Palestine… conquered by Islam by force, and made thereby Waqf lands upon their conquest…for all generations of Muslims until the Day of Resurrection.”
Continuing to defend Robert Serry’s spin based on the assurances given to him by Mahmoud Abbas, the Secretary General’s spokesperson said at the April 30th press briefing that “we have no reason not to take Mr. Abbas at his word.”
Actually the UN does have a reason not to take Mr. Abbas at his word, in addition to all of the Palestinian president’s past double-speak. Just listen to what Abbas’s “partner” Hamas says it has in mind.
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