- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2007

TEL AVIV — As Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas seeks international support for a Hamas-Fatah power-sharing agreement, Palestinian observers warn that formidable obstacles remain, including who will control the security forces.

The agreement reached in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, last week lays out principles for cooperation, but implementation still must be worked out amid longstanding mistrust between Mr. Abbas and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.

“When the CEOs of two major companies agree to merge, they leave the details to their staff; that is what happened in Mecca,” said Elias Zananiri, a former interior ministry spokesman under Mr. Abbas.

“The devil is always in the details. Everything on paper is clean and nice, but when it comes to implementation, that is the real test.”

The most sensitive problem will be overhauling the Palestinian security forces to incorporate thousands of members of a controversial Hamas unit, and the appointment of an interior minister to oversee the job.

Though the Mecca agreement calls for dismantling Hamas’ recently formed Executive Force, it doesn’t say who will command the gunmen.

Mr. Abbas and Mr. Haniyeh must also agree on the appointment of an interior minister, who will have responsibility for three separate security forces. Turf battles for control over the security forces have been a major factor behind the escalating clashes of recent months.

Speculation in recent days has pointed to Hamouda Jerwan, a one-time judge in the Palestine Liberation Organization’s military courts.

Former Gaza security chief Mohammad Dahlan told the London Arabic daily Al Hayat that the fate of the agreement would depend on Hamas’ implementation of the deal. He reportedly questioned whether Hamas gunmen could work under Fatah commanders after the recent clashes.

Mr. Dahlan, who has been mentioned as a possible deputy prime minister in the new government, added that the security forces will be controlled by a national security council, whose role is to ease tensions between the Palestinian president and prime minister.

Palestinians have reacted to the Mecca agreement with relief that after months of failed negotiations, Fatah and Hamas may finally have figured out a way to coexist in the same government.

“The most important thing is that they agreed. That means no civil war. It is having a positive effect on the general political atmosphere,” said Omar Shaban, a Gaza political analyst. “There’s no violence in the streets. But until when, no one knows.”

Mr. Shaban said Hamas and Fatah have yet to decide what to do about hundreds of public servants hired by Hamas but who were never approved by Mr. Abbas. That’s just one example of the sometimes murky division of powers in the governing structure of the 11-year-old Palestinian Authority.

Nashat Aqtash, a former communications consultant on Hamas’ winning parliamentary campaign a year ago, suggested that the bigger threat to the unity government’s stability would come from the continued pressure of an international economic boycott.

The European Union said Monday it would lift sanctions against the Palestinian Authority only if the new government met three international demands — that it recognize Israel, honor previous peace treaties and forswear violence.

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