Palestinian Deal a Very Vague Hint of Progress

Palestinian Deal a Very Vague Hint of Progress

JERUSALEM -- Pedestrians jam this city's lively Ben Yehuda Street during the blindingly bright daylight hours and late into the Middle Eastern night. From the local newsstands, the papers announce an agreement between the Palestinian sides, Hamas and Fatah, to form a unity government, holding out the tantalizing prospect of progress in the quest for peace. The news sifts into conversations along this white stone road, where shops and restaurants buzz with activity and street musicians entertain the crowds even as armed guards posted at every door check restaurant and cafe patrons to keep suicide bombers from striking this, one of their favorite Jerusalem targets. This is what passes for normal in Israel: a full, complicated life, with the constantly looming threat of tragedy, and a perennial hope for peace.

The question this day is whether the just-announced agreement between Hamas, the radical Islamic party that controls the Palestinian government, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of the rival Fatah party, will bring this land any closer to peace.

The reason Hamas and Fatah have decided to work together, stated simply, is money. Since Hamas took power, international donors and Israel have cut off the flow of funds to the Palestinian Authority, creating a desperate financial crisis. The crisis has spawned protests within the Palestinian territories against Hamas, along with a sharp drop in popular support for the party that swept to power earlier this year. A recent poll by the Palestinian an-Najah National University in Nablus shows that if elections were held today, Hamas would receive only 20 percent of the vote, a stunning reversal in its standing. The situation has grown dire enough that the group's leaders in Gaza (in contrast with their rival power center exiled in Damascus) know they urgently need to take action.

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