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Dispute Jeopardizes Palestinian Unity Deal

  • Robert Berger

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri (file photo)

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri (file photo)

A Palestinian unity agreement signed with much fanfare last month has run into trouble.

The Islamic militant group Hamas has rejected the rival Fatah faction's nominee for prime minister, threatening a delicate reconciliation agreement signed six weeks ago in Cairo. The unity deal is aimed at reconciling rival Palestinian governments: Hamas rules the Gaza Strip while Fatah heads the more moderate Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri made a terse statement after Fatah nominated the current prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Salam Fayyad.

Abu Zuhri said Hamas has informed Fatah that the nomination of Fayyad is unacceptable.

Hamas officials say Fayyad cannot head a unity government because he cooperated with Israel's blockade on Gaza and shared responsibility for the arrest of Hamas leaders in the West Bank.

Fatah says Fayyad is an excellent nominee because he is a moderate who is acceptable to the United States, European Union and Israel, which consider Hamas a terrorist organization. Senior Fatah official Nabil Shaath says the infighting is counter-productive and harms Palestinian interests.

"I wish that Hamas or our people refrain from public debate about names. You can have a public debate about politics, but about names it makes things more difficult."

The dispute has serious implications for the Palestinians. Fayyad has promised to keep Western donor money from reaching Hamas, but without those guarantees, hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign aid could be suspended.

In addition, the Palestinian Authority intends to seek United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state in September, but without a unified front, that plan could be in jeopardy.