Smoke and mirrors: the Palestinian coffee house verdict on President Abbas's unity deal with Hamas

Over tobacco and backgammon, West Bank talk turns to Israel and the peace talks pulled apart by the militant reconciliation

AL BIREH, WEST BANK

At the popular al-Ain coffee house in Al Bireh, a Palestinian city in the central West Bank, talk turned to Israel and power sharing over apple-flavoured tobacco and backgammon.

There was widespread praise of national unity as good and essential for the Palestinian people, but three days after the moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas struck his reconciliation with the militant Hamas movement, questions about the peace process pervaded the air like the smoke from the narghiles (water pipes) of West Bank cafés.

In Al Bireh, the twin city of Mr Abbas's de facto capital Ramallah, many of the all-male clientele of coffee houses doubted the agreement would last, or thought it would end up on the shelf like previous reconciliation deals to reunify the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

"A month from now it will all be finished. Both sides know it is all theatre," said Omar Mohammed, 26, a graduate of nearby Birzeit University in computer science.

"It's all a game, it is public relations. Each side knows the public wants reconciliation and they want to show that they want it. But signing a paper is one thing and implementing on the ground another."

Pacts struck in 2011 and 2012 did not translate into action and the rivalry that has bedevilled Palestinian politics since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2006 persisted.

The latest agreement calls for the establishment of a national unity government, headed by Mr Abbas, to be formed within five weeks and to shepherd Palestinians to new elections – their first since 2006 – late this year.

On Friday, the latest American-sponsored attempt to fashion a lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians appeared to lie in ruins after Barack Obama said it was time for a "pause" in the process, effectively drawing a line under his administration's efforts to reconcile the two sides. The Palestinians' unity deal was seen as the final nail in the process.

Nidal Abu Rub, who works as finance manager for a non-governmental organisation, praised the unity deal. "Imagine you are in a house and you have a wife and kids. If your wife and you go in separate directions you have a weak house. If you go in the same direction you have a strong house," he said.

In Mr Abu Rub's view, the main factor influencing Mr Abbas to pursue the reconciliation was Israeli occupation policies, including building at the illegal settlements on the land of the future Palestinian State. "The path of negotiations with Israel is closed," he said. "It believes in annexation not peace."

The 46-year-old added that it remained to be seen if the reconciliation will endure and he predicted Israel may try to drive the parties apart. "Israel could create a small crisis by killing someone in Gaza, and Hamas would react," he said. "Israel is the troublemaker, not Hamas."

But Amjad Mohammed, an official in the interior ministry of the Palestinian Authority, criticised the Islamist movement. "Hamas doesn't want reconciliation. It wants all the power in its hands. That's the nature of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas wants to rule over everything."

In Mr Mohammed's view, Hamas agreed to the pact because its position is weak after the fall of its main ally, the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt. "It's a temporary interest. Maybe in two weeks all this will be finished, maybe not."

He backed Mr Abbas because he was "moderate politically and knows what he wants". He added: "Most of the Israelis view him as moderate and he has international support for his views."

Although Israel suspended negotiations with Mr Abbas over the unity move, Mr Mohammed does not rule out that the talks will be resumed.

"I think there's a chance for peace with the Netanyahu government or another government," he said. "There can be a solution, a partial solution and things will move slowly but things can change. But freezing settlements must be a condition to show that they want peace."

In a speech before top leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organisation at his Ramallah headquarters yesterday, Mr Abbas stressed that he is still interested in extending peace talks with Israel that are due to expire in two days, provided there is a settlement freeze and the release of a group of Palestinian prisoners Israel had been due to free on 29 March.

The extension should be for three months and deal with Palestinian proposals for defining the border, he said. "There's no obstacle to us restarting the talks, but the 30 prisoners need to be released," he added.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones
film
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
Danielle George is both science professor and presenter
people
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015