After the failure of the Qatari initiative to help bring a national unity government in the Palestinian territories, observers could not help asking: what would happen if Hamas keeps refusing to soften its stance on Israel?
Last week, Qatari Foreign Minister Hamad Ben Jassem al-Thani arrived in Gaza and presented a six-point initiative aiming at helping form a Palestinian coalition government with a political platform that satisfies the Quartet Committee, so as to end the siege imposed on the Palestinians and resume the peace process with Israel.
But after marathon meetings with the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) leadership both in Syria and Gaza, as well as with President Mahmoud Abbas, the Qatari official announced in a news conference on Tuesday that Hamas rejected two key clauses in his initiative: the recognition of Israel and renouncing violence.
Some Palestinians expressed worries that Hamas' rejection of such efforts might make the Palestinians continue to suffer from the sanctions or even lead the territories into a civil war.
Efforts by President Abbas have so far failed to convince Hamas to meet the international community's requirements of recognizing Israel, renouncing violence and respecting previous agreements signed with Israel in order to end the crises faced by the Palestinians in the West bank and the Gaza Strip.
Abbas and Prime Minister Ismail Haneya of Hamas reached an initial agreement on forming a coalition government to replace the incumbent Hamas-led one in an effort to end an economic and political crisis triggered by the West and Israel's cutting off of direct aid due to the ruling Hamas' refusal to meet the three major conditions.
However, the talks was deadlocked as Hamas remained adamant on its stance of refusing to recognize Israel.
So where is the crux of the problem? Analysts say that the two sides had yet to find a language that might leave room regarding the basic issue of recognizing of Israel but yet could satisfy the West.
Hamas has repeatedly stated that it would not accept anything that explicitly confers recognition of Israel.
If the Hamas movement recognizes Israel, this means that Hamas will reach its end and it will turn into nothing but a traditional organization like other factions, said Khalil Ghurab, a Palestinian academic from Gaza.
He added that if Hamas recognizes Israel, this would automatically break up its fundamental ideology that it was established on, and would erase the military achievements it made during 19 years of armed struggle against Israel in the West Bank and Gaza since its foundation in 1987.
Hamas has also refused to recognition of past peace deals with Israel.
When Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chaired by late leader Yasser Arafat signed the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords with Israel, after Israel and the PLO exchanged recognition, the Hamas movement opposed the mutual recognition and the Oslo accords, vowing to oppose the accords violently.
Hamas refused even to join the first ever legislative elections held in the Palestinian territories in January 1996, saying these elections are an outcome of the rejected Oslo accords and Hamas wouldn't join it.
After ten years, Hamas changed its decision and decided to join the legislative elections held in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem in January 2006, but maintained that the interim peace accords had expired and Hamas only join the elections because it believed in the "political partnership".
What the movement wants is only a truce with Israel. The movement had expressed willingness to agree with Israel, through a third party, on a long-term truce, which could be ten years, more or less.
Hamas won the elections and formed the current Hamas government. Because it keeps the original stance against Israel after took government power from President Abbas' Fatah movement, the West and Israel have imposed sanctions on the Hamas-led government, cutting off financial aid to it.
The political and economic crisis have caused great sufferings for Palestinians. There have been tensions between supporters of President Abbas's Fatah party and the ruling Hamas movement and one after another strikes by civil servants over non-payment of wages.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, also a senior aid to Abbas, said Wednesday that the Hamas-led government had to accept Israel for the sake of the Palestinian people, though the Hamas movement, as a political faction, did not have to do so.
Abbas also asked Hamas to honor interim peace deals with the Jewish state.
In the initial agreement between Abbas and Haneya, the two sides agreed to form a unity government on the basis of the Prisoners' Document of National Accordance, drafted by prominent Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, which calls for a Palestinian statehood alongside Israel and a truce with Israel to end the ongoing violence in the Palestinian territories.
Hamas had rejected the document in the beginning, but accepted it after President Abbas threatened to go for a popular referendum on it.
However, though the two sides agreed on most of the document's text, Hamas expressed reservation on the clause related to accepting the Arab peace initiative. The initiative, issued in an Arab Summit held in Beirut in 2002, clearly recognized the state of Israel.
Haneya has clearly stated that his government would not accept the Arab peace initiative, "because it carries in between the lines a recognition of the state of Israel."
Some Palestinian analysts believe that the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank are facing two options if the situation continues like this.
"We either accept forming a national coalition government or go for endless civil war," said political analysts Tawfeeq Ramadan.
Yasser Abed Rabbo of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) on Tuesday said that the Qatari plan was the final effort that, if failed, would be altered with early elections.
In that case, a referendum would be called to give President Abbas popular permission to call early polls.
Abbas himself said that if Hamas movement keeps rejecting initiatives and keeps behaving like it just wants to impose its agenda on the world, he has his own options.
Nabil Amro, an aid to Abbas said that one of these options is to form a technocrat government, adding "the other is to form a one-year-emergency government and then to go for presidential and legislative elections."
However, many Palestinians fear that if any of these options are taken by Abbas without coordination with the Hamas-led movement, "the Palestinians would go for a civil war".
Abbas was likely to make a decision after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan later this month, his aides said.
(Xinhua News Agency October 13, 2006)