Monday,11 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1128, 27 December 2012 - 2 January 2013
Monday,11 December, 2017
Issue 1128, 27 December 2012 - 2 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

Waiting for Cairo

Egyptian mediation is key to Palestinian reconciliation efforts. But can Egypt make the time away from pressing domestic concerns, asks Saleh Al-Naami

Al-Ahram Weekly

The offices of the Palestinian General Intelligence in Cairo are receiving an unusually high volume of phone calls, mostly from Fatah or Hamas senior officials wanting help from Egyptian Intelligence, which is mediating disputes between the two sides. Fatah wants Cairo to intervene because although Ismail Haniyeh’s government agreed to allow Fatah to host a celebration marking its 48th anniversary in the Gaza Strip, for the first time since divisions started Gaza will not allow Fatah to hold the celebration at Green Brigade Square — the largest square in the Gaza Strip. Fatah wants Cairo to convince Haniyeh’s government to concede.

But the two Palestinian factions sense the Egyptians are not fully invested in domestic Palestinian affairs right now, because of turmoil on the Egyptian domestic scene. This has delayed any real efforts for reconciliation since both Fatah and Hamas leaders believe only Egypt can help both sides sign a reconciliation agreement. Since President Mohamed Morsi’s administration is currently unavailable to attend to issues overseas, Fatah and Hamas will have to wait until conditions settle down in Egypt.

Contrary to expectations, Israel’s failed military assault on the Gaza Strip and Palestine gaining observer status at the UN General Assembly did not improve the chances of internal Palestinian reconciliation. The first impression was that these two developments would make it easy for Fatah and Hamas leaders to be flexible and revive efforts to end divisions.

“The second obstacle which is holding up reconciliation is the dispute between Fatah and Hamas over forming a consensus government and holding presidential and parliamentary elections,” one senior Palestinian source revealed to Al-Ahram Weekly. The source indicated that Hamas insists on implementing the Doha Declaration that stipulates forming a consensus government and then holding parliamentary and presidential elections. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gives priority to parliamentary and presidential elections over a consensus government.

The source explained that Fatah’s position on elections is confusing since the group’s spokesmen sometimes focus on the need for Hamas to allow the Central Elections Committee to operate in the Gaza Strip, which does not contradict the Doha Declaration. At other times, however, they insist on holding elections and focus on the clause about forming a national consensus government. The source was pessimistic about the chances of implementing the elections clause, noting that the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas do not have control of the conditions for these elections right now, especially in the West Bank where Israel could make it impossible to hold elections because it controls security there.

The source added that even if Israel’s position is overcome, there are still many questions about how to meet the preconditions participating groups will demand, especially Hamas, such as freedom of campaigning and holding meetings in the West Bank.

The third obstacle on the road to reconciliation, he continued, is that Hamas’s General Shura Council has not yet decided who to elect as the head and members of the group’s politburo.

Sources told the Weekly that some Palestinian entities recently asked Khaled Meshaal, the outgoing director of the politburo, to launch an initiative to end the reconciliation stalemate. Meshaal, however, turned down the proposal because he will soon leave power and a new leadership will be elected. These figures suggested Meshaal should pressure Haniyeh’s government to take an urgent decision to allow the Central Elections Committee to operate in the Gaza Strip without restrictions.

The Hamas leader insists he will not nominate himself for a fifth term despite growing pressure by Hamas and Arab figures, after the showdown between Hamas and Israel, to change his mind and remain in office. Many sources expect reconciliation efforts to quickly pick up once Moussa Abu Marzouk, Meshaal’s deputy, is elected as his successor since he is very familiar with the issue of reconciliation. If someone else is elected director of the politburo, however, it will take a long time to get to this matter.

Meanwhile, the debate between Hamas and Fatah is riddled with accusations and suspicion. Nabil Shaath, member of Fatah’s Central Committee in charge of foreign relations, accused Gaza’s security agencies of procrastinating in issuing permits for Fatah’s anniversary celebrations in Gaza. “The mentality of these agencies is still suspicious and sceptical,” stated Shaath. “And thus, they continue to obstruct our efforts to make this great national event a success.”

Shaath urged Hamas’s political leadership to intervene to end the controversy because obstructing Fatah’s celebrations would be “a critical indicator that would reflect on future preparations to move forward on the road to reconciliation. We believe our people will not forgive anyone who makes this terrible mistake.”

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, member of Hamas’s politburo, called for “a new roadmap to achieve Palestinian reconciliation” since such a “map” would help both sides make tangible progress. “What is holding up reconciliation right now is the absence of a roadmap to guide the next steps after priorities are set and mechanisms for implementation are decided,” argued Al-Zahhar.

Speaking to the PA’s radio station Sunday morning, Al-Zahhar added: “both sides should end internal disputes and begin laying down the foundation, through Egyptian mediation, on how to develop meetings that are not just for the sake of meeting like in the past and don’t go anywhere.” Al-Zahhar added that Egypt would continue to exclusively sponsor the reconciliation effort “since it is the most independent of Arab states regarding Palestinian reconciliation”.

Azzam Al-Ahmed, member of Fatah’s Central Committee, revealed that there is a tentative agreement between the two groups that Abbas and Meshaal will meet in Cairo as soon as Egypt’s domestic scene allows it. “We must return to the points of agreement where we stopped, so that we can honour what was agreed upon in Cairo and Doha,” suggested Al-Ahmed.

Responding to Hamas accusations against Salam Fayyad’s government of continuing to arrest Hamas members and leaders in the West Bank, Al-Ahmed said that Hamas is using this issue to “distort the facts”. While admitting that this problem still persists, he said it is caused by current internal divisions.

The Israelis, meanwhile, are trying to fan the flames of Palestinian divisions by leaking to foreign press that they have uncovered plots by Hamas to extend its control to the West Bank and topple Fayyad’s cabinet. Britain’s The Sunday Times newspaper quoted Israeli sources as saying that Meshaal gave orders to Hamas “sleeper” cells to begin taking control of the West Bank. The Israeli sources added that Tel Aviv is concerned about Hamas coming to power in the occupied West Bank, and that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu received alerts from Israeli Intelligence that “Hamas could take over power in the West Bank as it did in the Gaza Strip five years ago.”

Politburo member Ezzat Al-Reshk denied Israel’s claims and described them as aiming to “poison the inter-Palestinian atmosphere”. Al-Reshk said on his Facebook page: “such fabricated reports are sponsored by Zionist entities to interfere with the positive and conciliatory atmosphere between Fatah, Hamas and Palestinian factions.” He said that his group is “strongly moving ahead to achieve reconciliation and unite national ranks. This worries the occupation, which wants to undermine and disrupt it.”

Yehia Moussa, deputy leader of Hamas’s parliamentary bloc, said that Israel’s leaks serve the principle of “divide and rule” to cover up the occupation’s discrimination and crimes against the Palestinian people by distracting the Palestinian arena with “worthless reports”. Moussa added: “the conscience and intelligence of the Palestinian people makes them aware that this is part of the Zionist war on the people. What is needed is more action towards the unity of all parties, and thinking together about how to create real resistance to this occupation.”

All Palestinian parties are waiting for Cairo to find time for Gaza issues. Egypt after the revolution is much more influential in the Gaza Strip than before. But as long as Egyptians are preoccupied with their own domestic affairs, it is likely that Palestinians will be unable to settle their internal differences by themselves.

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