Palestinian Unity Deal Moves Ahead

Washington, Nov. 29 - The terrorist group Hamas and the Palestinian political faction Fatah have agreed to hold elections and possibly exchange prisoners in a unity deal that appears to be progressing, news outlets reported Tuesday.

The Palestinian Authority’s official news agency, Wafa, quoted Abbas– who is visiting Austria – as saying “we expect the next elections to be held in May 2012.”

After months of uncertainty surrounding a proposed unity government consisting of the Iran-backed Hamas and the more moderate Palestinian movement Fatah, the indication of coming elections is the biggest sign yet that the unification process is still alive.

Hamas and Fatah also are discussing the possible release of each other’s prisoners, according to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an.

"(President Mahmoud) Abbas gave instructions to the director of the Palestinian Authority’s general intelligence service, Majid Faraj, to release Hamas-affiliated detainees stated in a list received from Hamas" while requesting the release of Fatah prisoners in Gaza, Fatah affiliated lawmaker Faysal Abu Shahla told the news agency.

Yet an Israeli-based expert told listeners in a conference call hosted by The Israel Project Tuesday that the scheduled election in the Palestinian territories was still far from certain given the continued disagreements between both parties, most notably over any possible transitional government.

“Everything is in such flux,” Dr. Jonathan Rhynhold, an expert in Palestinian-Israeli relations at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies said. “I think we’re in an incredibly fluid period, and it’s not clear the elections will take place.”

Rhynhold cited a fear on Fatah’s part that a unity deal would drastically increase Hamas’ power in the West Bank as well as Hamas’ concern that they would “have to dismantle their empire in Gaza” as two reasons still obstructing the reconciliation efforts.

He said conversely, Hamas’ awareness of being an entrenched, undemocratic power in a changing Arab world and Fatah’s need for new momentum in the Palestinian statehood drive were two major factors pushing the two factions together.

Yet Rhynhold said the impediments to the deal still outweighed the benefits for both parties. “At this stage it’s a public relations exercise,” he said.

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