Cold reality for Fatah
A glimmer of hope for an end to Palestinian infighting, predicts Saleh Al-Naami
He didn't try to hide his resentment as a reporter on the local radio cited a Hamas leader as saying that the movement had reached an agreement with Fatah to initiate dialogue with the aim of ending their current crisis. For Wael Khalil, the 35-year-old officer who is investigating recent bombings in Gaza, Fatah is not acting in good faith. "Had we not been working around the clock, we wouldn't have been able to foil most of the bombing attempts ordered by Fatah in Ramallah, Khalil told me.
Khalil's suspicions and the unprecedented bombings in Gaza aside, a deal between the two groups is not unlikely. Reliable sources in both groups say that Hamas and Fatah are ready to talk, thanks to mediation by Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Othman Ismail.
Ismail was concerned that his mediation may alienate Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the two countries who handled mediation between Fatah and Hamas in the past. So he got in touch with both Cairo and Riyadh and obtained their blessing for his efforts. Ismail then met with Khaled Meshaal, Ismail Haniyeh, and Mahmoud Abbas and obtained their "preliminary" consent to hold dialogue.
Once Fatah and Hamas agreed to restart talks, Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman expressed readiness to resume mediation between the two sides in coordination with the Sudanese. Suleiman, sources say, has already persuaded both Abbas and Meshaal to start secret talks in Cairo following Eid Al-Fitr.
Hamas is likely to be represented in the talks by a delegation including Moussa Abu Marzouk, Khalil Al-Hayya, and Mustafa Abu Hashem. Fatah, for its part, is likely to be represented by a delegation led by Nabil Shaath.
Suleiman has asked both Fatah and Hamas to provide him with any proposals they may have for ending the crisis. Based on those proposals, Suleiman, who is currently in touch with Meshaal, Abbas, and other Palestinian officials, is likely to prepare an Egyptian plan.
Fatah has undergone a change of heart. The first sign of change came after secret meetings held between Hamas and Fatah two months ago in Beirut, on the sidelines of Palestinian factional meetings. While in Beirut, former Palestinian National Security Adviser Jibril Al-Ragub met with Mohamed Nazzal of Hamas and discussed with him ways of breaking the deadlock.
During that meeting, Hamas proposed to take the first step towards reconciliation. An initiative formulated by Hamas says that Hamas is willing to place all security and presidential buildings, as well as the Rafah crossing, under Egyptian control temporarily. Once agreement was made between the two groups, the Egyptians would hand those facilities over to official Palestinian security services.
Hamas wants a comprehensive deal involving an end to all hostile remarks by both sides. It is suggesting the formation of a central government for both the West Bank and Gaza, with a programme reminiscent of that of the national unity government. Hamas reiterates its commitment to the Cairo and Mecca agreements and demands that the security services be reconstructed on "nationalist and professional" grounds. It wants the PLO to be restructured within a clear timetable and elections to be held for the Palestinian National Council.
The Hamas initiative calls for solutions to the problems that emerged after the military confrontation between the two sides. Specifically, it wants President Abbas to rescind decisions restricting Hamas activity and freedom of movement in the West Bank. Hamas demands a solution of the problem of detainees in the West Bank and Gaza and demands agreement on the fate of public and private property.
In its initiative, Hamas says it recognises the unity of the West Bank and Gaza and "rejects any attempt to separate them under any pretext and in any form." Hamas also pledges commitment to basic Palestinian laws, urges respect for the legitimate government in all its components, and calls for unity within the political system.
The initiative says that the current crisis cannot be resolved except through "serious and in-depth dialogue addressing all the security issues that triggered the crisis." Hamas wants all aspects of the crisis to be addressed in a package deal, noting that "all steps should be taken in agreement between the two sides and according to a clear timetable."
Although President Abbas publicly denies having agreed to resumption of talks with Hamas, Fatah sources say that his remarks were meant to avert angry Israeli and US reactions ahead of the Annapolis conference.
President Abbas is convinced that Israel is unlikely to offer him any deal that is acceptable to the Palestinian people. But he believes that any declaration regarding the talks with Hamas would be a gift to Israel, for it would justify its inflexibility in Annapolis. Both Israel and the US made it abundantly clear that they were opposed to Abbas resuming talks with Hamas. This is why the Palestinian president wants all dialogue between Hamas to remain secret. Once the Annapolis conference is held, and once it proves unsatisfactory, the Fatah-Hamas talks would be made public.
President Abbas is not optimistic about Annapolis talks. He has come to the conclusion that all the punitive measures he has taken against Hamas, with the help of the international community, won't stop Hamas from holding on to Gaza. In fact, Hamas is known to have consolidated its power in Gaza and restructured its security and legal institutions.
Fatah leaders at home and abroad, as well as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have been urging Abbas to talk to Hamas. During his recent visit to Riyadh, King Abdullah pointedly asked the Palestinian president why he wasn't talking with Hamas. Abbas said that he didn't want to alienate the Americans.
Reports about Fatah's willingness to talk to Hamas have prompted Israeli officials to call on Washington to take action. According to Haaretz, Olmert's office sent a message to the US administration asking it to tell Egypt to stop mediating.
For now, Hamas and Fatah are fighting in public, but once the Annapolis conference fails -- as expected -- the two may well sort out their differences.