The distance between Gaza and the West Bank is growing
Composition of Fayyad's new cabinet almost conclusively dashes any hope of Palestinian reconciliation.
RAMALLAH - It's hard not to be impressed by the optimism about the Middle East that the White House is radiating. A brief visit to Ramallah, however, makes one wonder about the basis for it.
The composition of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's new Palestinian cabinet, which was sworn in Tuesday evening, almost conclusively dashed any hope of Palestinian reconciliation, and with it, the possibility that the Hamas regime in Gaza can be ousted in the near future. The prospect of Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections is also getting more remote and unrealistic, while the rift between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank is only getting wider. The two-state solution doesn't look possible right now, and not just because of Netanyahu and the settlements.
Just a few months ago, Fayyad resigned to facilitate efforts to forge a national unity government without delay. But the most recent round of talks in Cairo between Fatah and Hamas ended Monday, without any tangible results, and the Palestinian Authority leadership decided to give the go-ahead to the formation of a cabinet without Hamas.
There was widespread sentiment among the journalists at the Muqata last night that the Palestinian elections scheduled for January would not take place as long as the two major Palestinian factions failed to reconcile. Many observers don't see either Fatah or Hamas as being genuinely interested in an election - but without one, the rift will remain, rendering a two-state solution irrelevant even if, by some miracle, Israel freezes settlements and reaches a peace agreement with the Palestinian Authority.
A few minutes before 6 P.M. Tuesday, it became apparent that Fatah-affiliated parliament members who had been nominated to the new cabinet - the 13th in 14 years - were refusing to serve. Fayyad had proposed several Fatah cabinet candidates who are not members of the movement's senior leadership, arousing the ire of some of the top officials. A boycott of the Fayyad government was called.
Two of the holdouts had already appeared at the entrance of the Muqata by 6:01 P.M., after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas summoned them in the hope of winning their cooperation. Four minutes later, they angrily left Abbas' office while standing by their refusal to serve in the cabinet. But five minutes after that, the cabinet was ultimately sworn in. It will take the Palestinian public time to learn the names of the unfamiliar cabinet ministers.
As soon as the ceremony was over, Fayyad launched an attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. When asked about Netanyahu's readiness for an immediate resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians, he said: "I do not think this is the appropriate time to talk about negotiations when Israel is not honoring prior agreements and understandings." Most of his remarks, however, were devoted to internal Palestinian issues. He appears to view talks with Israel as being less than urgent at the moment.
So what, after all, is the source of Obama's optimism? One prominent Palestinian commentator ventured that it stems from ignorance. "Obama still doesn't know what the Middle East is and what the Palestinian issue is," he said. "With time, he will learn."