26 May 2011

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected US pressure for a Palestinian state based on 1967 borders and US President Barack Obama’s demands for a removal of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Netanyahu instead denounced Palestinian plans to gain recognition as a state at a UN vote in September and told its leadership to accept the state of Israel. Netanyahu has refused to yield to Obama’s calls since 2009 to stop settlements in Palestinian territory.

The recent resignation of US Middle East envoy George Mitchell suggests the White House will soften its tough stance with the Jewish state in future.

5 May 2011

On 4 May, the leaders of rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement at a ceremony in Cairo. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority and the head of Fatah signed the deal with Khaled Meshaal, head of the Islamist movement Hamas.

The reconciliation deal was brokered by Egypt’s transitional government and was witnessed by representatives from the UN, the EU and the Cairo-based Arab League. The agreement also provides for the creation of a joint caretaker government before elections are held next year. The plan has been criticised in Israel, which says it will not deal with a Palestinian government that includes members of Hamas.

On 1 May, Fatah and Hamas signed a draft agreement after four years of conflict. Hamas will maintain control of Gaza, but as a condition it has insisted on the resignation of Salam Fayed, the Palestinian prime minister, who is seen as anti-Hamas.

23 February 2011

Gazans celebrated the exit of Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak as wildly as anyone in Tahrir Square, yet the strip is unlikely to witness a rise in street level protests against the Hamas administration. Although discontent at the Gazan government is rife, particularly over the activities of Hamas-linked security forces, the local population does not necessarily blame them for the impact of the economic blockade.

In contrast, the Fatah-ruled West Bank faces heightened political risk. Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad’s dismissal of his cabinet on 14 February showed that Palestine is not immune to the shock waves hitting the region. President Mahmoud Abbas announced shortly afterwards that elections would be held in September. The polls could provide a release valve for discontent. There are dynamics at play in the West Bank that could stave off sustained unrest. Noted improvements in the economy are finally feeding through on the ground and the removal of some of Israel’s military checkpoints have also helped.

September elections could see Fatah punished at the polls, but it is hard to envisage a new intifada directed inwards, rather than at Israel.