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Michael Jansen: Hopes of reconciliation
October 09, 2017
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Fatah and Hamas delegations are set to meet in Cairo tomorrow (Tuesday) to resolve remaining differences in the deal to reconcile the Palestinian movements which have been rivals for 30 years. The goal of reconciliation is the return of Fatah’s West Bank-based Palestinian Authority to Gaza, ruled by Hamas for a decade. Last month Hamas shut down its administration and last week the Authority’s “consensus cabinet” held its first session in Gaza since June 2007 when Hamas’ military wing, the Izzedin al-Qassam brigades, chased Fatah’s security forces out of the narrow coastal strip after an attempted coup by Fatah’s ex-strongman Muhammad Dahlan.

It is ironic but not surprising that Abu Dhabi-based Dahlan has been instrumental in the reconciliation effort. His main task was to persuade Hamas he could be a credible mediator despite the failed coup against Hamas which was backed by Egypt and the US. Dahlan was in a strong position to mediate as he retained the support of Egypt and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. His second task was to bring together Hamas, an off-shoot of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, and Cairo. Egypt has been battling the Brotherhood since mid-2013 and has accused Hamas of aiding and abetting Daesh-linked radicals in northern Sinai. Dahlan has succeeded so far because Hamas sought to hand over Gaza to the Authority while Egypt wanted to end the rule of Hamas because of its roots in the Brotherhood.

Egypt has managed to broker a deal, based on the 2012 Cairo accord, because both Hamas and Fatah are weak and seek to reunify Palestinian ranks as a means to bolster their steadily deteriorating positions. Egypt’s job was made easier since Hamas has long accepted Abbas’ and international political conditions for reconciliation by agreeing on a long-term truce with Israel, accepting a Palestinian state within the 1967 ceasefire lines, indirectly recognising Israel, and signing onto arrangements made between the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel. Until recently these concessions had been rejected by Abbas and the Western powers which are now backing the mediation effort.

Since the presidential term of Fatah’s leader, Abbas, expired in 2009 his legitimacy is questionable. While he does not seek to stay in office, he fears elections due to Hamas’ victory in the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary poll.

Abbas took office in 2005 after the death of Palestine’s first president, Yasser Arafat, pledging to bring forth a Palestinian state through peaceful negotiations with Israel. This did not happen. Instead, Israel expanded its colonisation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem in order to pre-empt and prevent the creation of a Palestinian state. Today there are at least 620,000 Israelis living illegally on the land Palestinians demand for their state and the “two-state solution,” the emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel is dead. To his credit, Dahlan has admitted as much although Abbas and his West Bank entourage do not admit defeat. The Palestinian Authority is also broke and in constant need of cash injections from international donors who are not as generous as they had been in the past.

Hamas’ assumption of control over Gaza in 2007 was welcomed by most Palestinians living in the strip. Hamas cracked down on criminal gangs that were kidnapping and robbing Gazans, deployed an effective police force and brought law and order to lawless Gaza. Unfortunately, like Fatah, Hamas was corrupted by power while Gaza was besieged and blockaded by Israel and devastated by two full-scale Israeli invasions in 2008-09 and 2014.

To exert pressure on Hamas to accept his demands as preconditions for reconciliation, Abbas cut salaries of Gaza-based civil servants and funding for fuel to Gaza, depriving its 2.2 million residents of electricity. The Authority also reduced the flow of medical supplies and equipment to Gaza and limited permits for Gazans to travel outside the strip for medical care. Blockaded by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt, Qatar was unable to continue funding Hamas’ rule in Gaza. The UN called on both Israel and the Authority to end their punishment of Gaza where living conditions rapidly deteriorated.

In coming talks, Fatah and Hamas have a host of issues to resolve. These include dealing with Hamas’ military wing and Hamas-appointed bureaucrats and providing power to electricity-starved Gaza. Palestinian presidential guards based in the West Bank have to be deployed on both the Egyptian and Israeli border crossings.

Egypt has, reportedly, worked out a compromise over Hamas’ 20,000 fighters, the key issue. This might not involve disbanding Hamas’ military wing but would put it under the control of a joint military council with equal members from Hamas and Fatah and Egyptian monitors. Hamas – which refuses to give up its arms until the Israeli occupation ends – has accepted the proposal, Abbas has not, so far. Until this issue is resolved there can be no reconciliation.

Although Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu dismisses reconciliation, Israel has to be a party to the deal. It has to lift its siege and blockade so materials for reconstruction and manufacturing and consumer goods can enter the strip, which now receives only limited food and medical supplies. Gazans have to be allowed to enter and leave the strip and there has to be freedom of movement across Israel between Gaza and the West Bank. Netanyahu could come under pressure to concede by the US, the European Union, and the Quartet, which support reconciliation. However, he has called the effort to unite the Palestinians “bogus reconciliation,” demonstrating he is not keen on carrying out Israel’s part in the progress.

The rivalry between Fatah and Hamas dates to the First Intifada (1987-93) when Hamas emerged as an armed movement resisting the Israeli occupation and challenged the Fatah-dominated PLO. The split was solidified when Hamas rejected the 1993 Oslo Accord, negotiated by the PLO and Israel, and pledged never to recognise or make peace with Israel. The rift intensified in 2000 when, in response to the failure of Oslo to deliver a Palestinian state, the Second Intifada, the uprising of bombs and bullets, began. Efforts to end clashes between the rivals and reconcile them began in 2005. Since then there have been a dozen attempts at unification under the sponsorship of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Qatar and Yemen. The latest is the 13th and might just succeed since both sides are desperate to regain credibility with disillusioned and disgusted Palestinians struggling to survive under Israeli occupation.

___________________________________________

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East
affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict

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