Monday,20 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013
Monday,20 August, 2018
Issue 1132, 24 - 30 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Cautious optimism

Observers of the Palestinian dialogue talks in Cairo express optimism that Fatah-Hamas reconciliation might finally be within reach, writes Ahmed Eleiba

Al-Ahram Weekly

Palestinian circles began this week to feel cautiously optimistic about Egyptian-brokered rounds of Palestinian reconciliation talks. The optimism increased as the key parties reached agreement over an agenda and dates for negotiations on difficult issues. Prime among them are the security portfolio, the creation of a government of independents headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and the restructuring of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). According to sources that took part in the dialogue, there has been a breakthrough in talks between the chief participating factions, Fatah and Hamas. This breakthrough comes against the backdrop of a new climate that began to emerge amid the last Israeli assault on Gaza in which the rival factions stood as one in the field, and subsequently at the UN, which voted to recognise Palestine as a non-member observer state. However, perhaps the most important sign of the rapprochement is the recent celebration of the reopening of Fatah offices in Gaza.

Speaking to Al-Ahram Weekly from Gaza, Walid Al-Awadi, a member of the dialogue committee, said that Abbas’s meeting with President Mohamed Morsi in Cairo last week and subsequent meetings between Hamas and Fatah concluded with agreement over a timetable for resolving outstanding contentious issues in reconciliation talks, and for setting the course for the Central Electoral Committee to begin work. In addition, participants agreed to hold a meeting of the PLO Central Committee in February and, simultaneously, to draw up a vision for the Social Reconciliation Committee.

Such progress towards the practical work of putting committees into effect is indicative of a shared political will to achieve reconciliation. However, much remains contingent on whether the dates for meetings and business are actually met rather than put off. Another major indication of progress will be the talks that are taking place with regard to the creation of a government of independents headed by Abbas. This government will primarily be tasked with arranging for parliamentary elections, reconstruction and restructuring and unifying Fatah and Hamas agencies and institutions. The government will be given only six months to perform its tasks, although its term can be extended if need be, in which case it would have to be reconstituted.

Al-Awadi noted that President Morsi was keen to see the dialogue succeed as soon as possible, to create a kind of internal impetus. However, Morsi simultaneously realises that the success must be solid if it is to be of benefit to all.

While some observers are disturbed by the fact that a parallel dialogue is taking place in Rabat, Al-Awadi felt that there was no need for considerable concern. He pointed out that many Palestinian factions registered reservations with regard to that step because Cairo remains the main venue for reconciliation talks and because it would be unwise to conclude business elsewhere that might put the factions in an awkward position with respect to Cairo, as had occurred previously at the time of a meeting in Qatar before the 25 January Revolution. Al-Awadi pointed out that it was the Islamist parties in Morocco that had issued the invitation to Palestinian factions, which signifies the intent to use the Palestinian cause to score points in the political game in Morocco. It was out of this realisation that the Palestinian meeting in Rabat was reduced to the level of a workshop. On the other hand, the process of social reconciliation among Palestinians will require considerable funding. The presumption is that Arab countries would like to contribute, and perhaps Morocco would like to be one of the sources that would be forthcoming with support for some 600 families that would receive compensation for loved ones lost in internecine fighting in Palestine.

Meanwhile, individuals that had been instrumental to escalating inter-Palestinian conflict, such as Mohamed Dahlan, have begun to resurface in Gaza. According to sources there, this is a positive development as it suggests that the chances of burying hatchets are greater. In an earlier interview with the Weekly, Mahmoud Al-Zahar said that question of the families who had lost sons was the hardest item on the dialogue agenda because those families would not tolerate the return of the persons they hold responsible to Gaza. Al-Zahar made particular mention of Dahlan who was the founder and chief official of the Preventive Security Services apparatus in Gaza, which was highly instrumental in the events that led to the fissure between the West Bank and Gaza in 2006.

A Fatah source, however, held that one side alone is not responsible for the bloodshed and that the question now transcended Fatah and Hamas. There is a need to give priority to the national agenda and to settle this issue in which Dahlan was a prime source of acrimony, he said, adding that the fact that Dahlan appeared in Khan Younis without arousing objections confirms the overriding desire for a settlement with regard to which the Reconciliation Committee’s working team will probably play a crucial role.

The absence of the Iranian factor in the internal Palestinian reconciliation process following Hamas’s departure from Syria may have played a part in the current breakthrough. An informed source in Cairo said that Khaled Meshaal’s visit to Gaza last month may have signalled an end to the influence of the Hamas wing that is close to Tehran. There may have been some support for the idea of trying to retain Iranian support independently of Hamas’s position with respect to the Syrian revolution, however Meshaal settled the matter in favour of promoting the success of reconciliation talks. Moreover, he took this stance in spite of the fact that Hamas’s internal elections were at hand. Meshaal will remain the strongest man in Hamas in view of this historic role, and he is the most determined to eliminate or at least restrain the internal factions that benefit from Palestinian divisions.

The security question is the most sensitive item on the negotiating table in view of the need to restructure Palestinian security agencies in the West Bank and Gaza. Cairo is certain to be a chief player in this respect. Many observers also believe that it will also be the longest track in the reconciliation process since it will not only involve the reunification of security agencies but also the management of the Gaza crossings as well as positions with respect to the form and nature of the Palestinian resistance to Israeli occupation.

Khalil Al-Haya, a Hamas official, discussed this subject of contention between Hamas and Fatah. The question of the resistance has not been broached, even indirectly, he said. All that has been agreed upon is the need to reincorporate the security agencies into a single system. As for the resistance, it will be safeguarded by the security agencies, for this is one of their duties. Hamas will not allow anyone to tamper with the resistance, he said.

On the other hand, a source close to the dialogue process in Cairo observed that the ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel that was concluded in Cairo was read by Fatah as a sign that Hamas is willing to politicise this question. Henceforth, Israel will not be able to blame the PA if reconciliation moves forward because now there is an agreement that holds Hamas responsible for Gaza and Israel responsible for its side in the event of any hostilities between the two.

Observers in Cairo that have been following the dialogue are still awaiting two important indicators that could reinforce the current optimism. The first is for Abbas to visit Gaza. The second is the ability of those pushing for reconciliation to take advantage of the tensions between him and Israel while retaining balance in relations abroad so as to prevent the encroachment of any influence that might countervail the progress that has so far been made in the rounds of the reconciliation dialogue in Egypt. Hopes for the latter will be contingent on sustaining the Cairo-brokered truce with Israel, which would enable Cairo to retain its leverage and to invest this leverage in important ways, such as towards the lifting of the blockade on Gaza.

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