President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority and the leader of the rival Islamic group Hamas met Thursday and the sides agreed to go ahead with elections in the Palestinian territories next year, according to officials, even as they failed to resolve differences over an interim unity government to prepare for the vote.The Arabic media had trumpeted the meeting for weeks, and even afterwards it tried to spin it as wonderful. But when you actually read the details, it is all fluff and nothing concrete. They agreed on a date for elections and they pretended to agree to stop making political arrests.
The meeting, in Cairo, was the first between Mr. Abbas, chief of the mainstream Fatah movement, and his rival, Khaled Meshal, the political leader of Hamas, since the two men signed a reconciliation accord in May. Even since then, the leadership of the Palestinian territories has remained divided, with Mr. Abbas’s authority confined to the West Bank while Hamas controls the coastal enclave of Gaza.
It remained unclear even after the meeting on Thursday whether the two sides were indeed committed to a further narrowing of their differences, and whether they would take any tangible steps toward power sharing soon or at all.
The May accord, brokered by Egypt, called for a transitional unity cabinet of unaffiliated technocrats to prepare for presidential and parliamentary elections within a year. Despite rosy public statements after their meeting on Thursday, the two men remained deadlocked over the makeup of that government, according to officials.
Neither of the leaders directly addressed the deadlock over the appointment of a unity government.
Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, said by telephone from Cairo that the sides had agreed to continue the discussions in committees. Azzam al-Ahmad of Fatah said that consultations would continue and that Mr. Abbas and Mr. Meshal would meet again to determine the makeup of the government and other issues.
But differences between the sides clearly prevailed.
As I tweeted yesterday, Hamas and Fatah are like a separated couple who hate each other but try to keep up appearances for the kids. They see the Arab uprisings and know that their division upsets Palestinian Arabs, so they make cosmetic changes to hold on to power but they do nothing to share it.
And within an hour of the meeting, Palestine Press Agency reports, Hamas police arrested three student leaders associated with Fatah. They also raided and took over the pharmacists' syndicate, which was pro-Fatah.
Unless there is a single security force with a single command structure across the West Bank and Gaza, the word "unity" is meaningless. And that is not going to happen.