The reconciliation agreement between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority is to be signed Wednesday morning in Cairo, creating an interim unity government and paving the way to elections in a year. The accord restores relations between the two, which were severed when Hamas forcibly took over the Gaza Strip in June 2007.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the head of the political bureau of Hamas, Khaled Meshal will sign the agreement in the presence of representatives of Egypt's Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, Egypt's governing body since the January revolution in that country.
Egypt is considered the patron of the reconciliation process and the agreement.
Representatives of a number of other smaller Palestinian organizations, who signed the accord yesterday, will also be present at the signing.
Despite the pomp and ceremony expected to surround today's signing, the gaps between the two groups are still large and the accord is one of principles only.
For example, there is no agreement yet on who will be the prime minister nor on the identities of the cabinet ministers. Abbas pledged last week that the information would be made public in a few days, but the Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh, said Monday that there were a few possibilities for prime minister.
The agreement also stipulates that Hamas and Fatah will release each others' prisoners; however, the Hamas website reported yesterday that four of its activists were arrested in the Askar refugee camp near Nablus, and dozens of others were questioned.
But a release of Hamas prisoners in the West Bank could create a security crisis with Israel.
According to the agreement,the unity government is to be composed of independent technocrats. The prime minister is also to be independent, belonging to neither of the two main factions, Fatah and Hamas.
The Palestinian parliament, in which Hamas has a large majority, will go back into operation although its mandate ran out in January 2010.
The cabinet of technocrats will be authorized to prepare for elections, to take place one year from today, and to rehabilitate the Gaza Strip. The funds to do so are to be provided by the international community if the new Palestinian government pledges to recognize Israel and agreements made with Israel.
For Abbas, one of the biggest dilemmas is the fate of the PA prime minister, Salam Fayyad. The latter has garnered widespread international support due to the reforms he implemented in recent years. Fayyad is also known for his strong ties to the United States and the Quartet, and even senior Israeli officials.
Sources in Hamas have made clear over the past few days that Hamas will insist that Fayyad not continue as prime minister, and that a resident of the Gaza Strip be given the post.
Abbas' assent to the Hamas demand could jeopardize international aid; the U.S. Congress has already expressed its displeasure with steps toward a Palestinian unity government with Hamas.
Fayyad, who is trying to convey a sense of business as usual, held a press conference in Ramallah Monday where he said Israel's decision to hold up tax refunds to the PA will make it difficult for him to pay government salaries on time.
Fayyad called on the international community to pressure Israel to change its decisions. "This is not Israeli or international money; it is Palestinian money and Israel is obliged by economic accords to transfer it to the Palestinian Authority," Fayyad said.
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