Palestinian reconciliation still far from a done deal
wThe prospect of reconciliation between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah appears more likely than previously but remains far from a done deal despite the landmark visit of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to the Gaza Strip.
While in the Gaza Strip Hamdallah led his first cabinet meeting in three years.
“Today, we stand before an important historic moment as we begin to get over our wounds, put our differences aside and place the higher national interest above all else,” he said at the televised meeting.
Hamas handed over administrative responsibilities of Gaza to the unity government that was formed in 2014. “There might be some difficulties on the road but we will conclude reconciliation, regardless of the cost,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said during a meeting with Fatah officials.
The cabinet meeting was attended by Egyptian intelligence Director Khaled Fawzy. Egypt has been pressuring Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to reach a rapprochement.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in a videotaped speech played at the meeting, said: “I assure you we have no time to waste and that history will hold accountable those who waste the current opportunity to bring about peace.”
Hamas and Fatah officials are to take part in talks in Cairo but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said he would not lift sanctions imposed on Gaza before seeing a positive conclusion to those negotiations. Abbas halted payments for Israeli-supplied electricity to Gaza and cut salaries for the strip’s civil servants.
The delay drew criticism from Hamas. “The government has assumed its responsibilities in Gaza and therefore delay is not justified,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said. “There is no excuse for delaying or undermining measures that would ease the suffering of Gaza’s people.”
Abbas said he would not tolerate a “Hezbollah model” in the Palestinian territories, in a reference to having an armed group outside the control of government, as is the case in Lebanon. “Everything must be in the hands of the Palestinian Authority,” said Abbas. Hamas has refused to disarm.
UN Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov said he was “encouraged” by the developments, calling for the Palestinian Authority to exercise full control in Gaza. “This is essential for resolving the humanitarian situation as soon as possible, most notably the crippling electricity and health crises,” Mladenov said in a statement.
US Special Representative Jason Greenblatt cautiously welcomed Hamdallah’s visit to Gaza but stressed that any Palestinian government “must unambiguously and explicitly commit to non-violence, recognition of the state of Israel, acceptance of previous agreements and obligations between the parties and peaceful negotiations.”
The US position was in sync with Israel’s demands. “Whoever wants to make such a reconciliation, our understanding is very clear: Recognise the state of Israel, disband the Hamas military arm, sever the connection with Iran — which calls for our destruction,” read a statement from Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Israeli commentators were divided on whether Hamas’s move represents a victory or a setback for the movement.
“If there is an underlying theme here, it is that Hamas as a government has come to terms with things that Hamas as a terror organisation had refused to come to terms with and that’s a positive,” Eran Lerman, a former deputy director of Israel’s National Security Council, told the New York Times.
Lerman said Israel has the “same instincts as the Egyptians do when it comes to Hamas… The consequence is that we basically trust them to take steps that restrain Hamas and undermine their legitimacy in the long run.”
Other commentators said Hamas has fooled Fatah and Egypt. “The ceremony isn’t being portrayed as a Fatah surrender to Hamas but it is. It’s also an Egyptian surrender to Hamas,” wrote Caroline B. Glick in the Jerusalem Post.
“Just as Abbas has decided to restore financing to Hamas to keep [former senior Fatah official Mohammed] Dahlan at bay, so Sisi has decided to embrace Hamas to keep Iran at bay,” argued Glick. “In all cases, of course, Hamas wins.”
Left-wing journalist Amira Hass saw reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah as good for Israel as Gaza’s woes, if uncontained, would likely affect Israel.
“One can always hope that someone in Israel nevertheless understands that the top priority now is to prevent Gaza from deteriorating into an even worse environmental and humanitarian disaster than it’s already in,” Hass wrote in Haaretz.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.