Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1365, (19 - 25 October 2017)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1365, (19 - 25 October 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Palestinian conciliation goes into action

Ahmed Eleiba writes on progress in the Fatah-Hamas rapprochement


Representatives of Fatah and Hamas sign the reconciliation agreement at the Egyptian Intelligence headquarters in Cairo last Thursday
Representatives of Fatah and Hamas sign the reconciliation agreement at the Egyptian Intelligence headquarters in Cairo last Thursday

Steps to implement the Palestinian conciliation agreement sponsored by Egypt are moving along. Last week, Cairo hosted the first follow-up session to decide how to implement the conciliation deal between Fatah and Hamas since their decision to end Palestinian divisions. The first step was for the consensus government headed by Ramy Al-Hamdullah to take over power in the Gaza Strip. The second was handing over the border crossings to the Palestinian Authority. On Monday, director of the Border Crossings Authority Nazmi Mehanna headed to Gaza to take over the reins for border crossings from Hamas security agencies. Mehanna met Tawfik Naim, commander of Hamas security agencies, and said he hoped the transfer of the crossings will happen smoothly beginning with Rafah, Karm Abu Salem and Beit Hanoun (Erez).

Sources in Cairo said this was only a procedural step for the Rafah border crossing since more time was needed to rehabilitate the crossing on Egypt’s side of the border. One source involved in the process told Al-Ahram Weekly the formula for the crossing remains the same as before, which requires the Palestinian Presidential Guard to return as administrators of the border crossing. Cairo is not party to this agreement but there is an EU team that should be returning to oversee the process.

The source said Hamas recently cooperated in rehabilitating the joint border region by building a buffer zone that will be monitored. Phase two of the process has now started, namely installing surveillance equipment along the border with the participation of Hamas security teams. The matter is still in the realm of security arrangements that will be discussed later at Cairo talks attended by Fatah and Hamas. The previous round of talks focused on giving a mandate to the Palestinian consensus government, as noted in the joint statement issued by negotiators on both sides in Cairo.

Hamas and Fatah, the rival Palestinian factions, signed a reconciliation deal last week according to which they agreed to hand over administrative control of Gaza, a decade after Hamas, an Islamist movement, seized the Strip  in a civil war. This internal conflict obstructed the peace process and was exacerbated by Hamas fighting three wars against Israel since 2008.

As for managing the day-to-day application of agreed measures on each conciliation issue, the source said the Egyptian-Arab committee headed by Egypt would be constantly present in the Gaza Strip to resolve daily problems that arise. However, there are still many issues that need to be resolved, including continued commitment by factions to remove all obstacles during talks, and adherence to everything that is agreed upon.

Commenting on the more hardline elements in Hamas and the possibility they may obstruct the implementation of the deal, the source said the group has contained the naysayers. For example, leading Hamas figure Fathi Hammad was called in and issued a warning by Hamas leader in Gaza Yehia Al-Senwar. This is notable and shows Hamas’ commitment so far as well as that of Al-Senwar who had previously said at a rally that he will break the neck of anyone who breaches the agreement.

Meanwhile, Cairo announced it will host representatives of all Palestinian factions on 21 November. According to sources in Cairo, 13 factions will likely be invited. An Egyptian source involved in the process said inviting the factions, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), and others is stipulated by the Palestinian agreement signed in Cairo in 2011, which is the framework for the ongoing action. The conciliation agreement was not only signed by Fatah and Hamas but all Palestinian factions.

According to the source, there are still some concerns in Cairo. For example, will presidential or legislative elections take place first? What are the calculations of each faction during elections to assert their vision in action plans? Will Hamas and Islamic Jihad join the PLO and on what terms? The PLO is the entity dealing with Israel, negotiating settlement and other key issues such as the government that will be formed after the elections.

Major General Mohamed Ibrahim, one of the architects of the 2011 agreement, told the Weekly it would be better to have a consensus government like today’s because cabinet shuffles could be objectionable to Israel, and it would be difficult to appoint Hamas members to the cabinet because Israel would obstruct any progress. Ibrahim added that Hamas showed flexibility in dealing with the terms of conciliation, but that the process is still at the beginning. He noted there are many challenges ahead but which could be eliminated by the political will of the parties.

An Israeli delegation visited Cairo last week to coincide with these developments. The visit partially dealt with the conciliation issue, but also focused on the exchange of prisoners between Israel and Hamas. Tarek Fahmi, an expert at the Middle East Studies Centre, told the Weekly that Israel will not be involved in the Palestinian conciliation process, not even indirectly.

Israel had asked Egypt to update Tel Aviv about progress so it can remain informed, especially regarding border crossings. It is also notable that there is a parallel deal on prisoner exchange between Hamas and Israel mediated by Egypt, which Israel is pursuing, perhaps to raise the popularity of its prime minister who is facing a domestic crisis on the matter.

Palestinian Prime Minister Al-Hamdullah met US special envoy to the peace process Jason Greenblatt to discuss conciliation. As for the developments in the peace process, Fahmi said so far it is clear there is a desire by the US to re-launch the peace process, but that there is no vision. Based on existing tracks, according to what is understood in communications and meetings between Cairo and Washington, the US views security issues within a framework of regional cooperation. But this is not a vision, according to Fahmi. In fact, the US president may visit the region before the end of the year and invite those who want to come within this framework.

“Israel does not have a plan either. It may put pressure to amend parts of the Arab initiative, and there may be a suggestion to hold a regional conference that would include Saudi Arabia. Jordan continues to play a role in activating the settlement track, while Egypt is also preparing a vision that includes key issues and written understandings,” Fahmi added.

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