Ha­mas claims deal agreed with Fatah over con­trol of Gaza Strip

The Guardian Australia - - Headlines - Peter Beau­mont in Jerusalem

The ri­val Pales­tinian fac­tions Ha­mas and Fatah ap­pear to have reached a partial deal over who should con­trol the con­tested Gaza Strip and on what terms.

The Ha­mas po­lit­i­cal leader, Is­mail Haniyeh, an­nounced early on Thursday that a deal had been agreed in Egyp­tian-bro­kered talks in Cairo, and that de­tails would be an­nounced later in the day.

Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion (PLO) of­fi­cials con­firmed to the Guardian that a deal had been reached but also said they had no fur­ther de­tails.

The talks marked the lat­est in a se­ries of at­tempts to end a decade­long Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­rial, po­lit­i­cal and ide­o­log­i­cal split that has crip­pled state­hood as­pi­ra­tions.

Amid the nascent signs of progress, a top Fatah of­fi­cial an­nounced that the Pales­tinian pres­i­dent, Mah­moud Ab­bas, would visit Gaza for the first time in a decade “within less than a month”. If it goes ahead, the Ab­bas visit would be the first since 2007 when the Is­lamist Ha­mas move­ment as­sumed con­trol of Gaza.

In 2007, a year af­ter win­ning Pales­tinian par­lia­ment elec­tions, Ha­mas evicted Ab­bas’s western-backed Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity from Gaza. Ab­bas was left with au­ton­o­mous en­claves in the Is­raeli-oc­cu­pied West Bank.

Over the past decade, each side deep­ened its con­trol over its ter­ri­tory, mak­ing it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to forge com­pro­mises.

Pre­vi­ous ef­forts to reach a ne­go­ti­ated rec­on­cil­i­a­tion be­tween the two fac­tions – such as in 2014 – have been an­nounced be­fore but have al­ways fal­tered.

The cur­rent round of talks have fo­cused on is­sues with broader ar­eas of agree­ment be­tween the two sides – leav­ing out the most con­tentious points, most sig­nif­i­cantly the fu­ture of Ha­mas’s 25,000-strong armed wing in Gaza.

In­stead talks have cen­tred on the fu­ture of Ha­mas’s civil ser­vice work­ers in min­istries such as the Ha­m­as­con­trolled health ser­vice and over who con­trols the Rafah bor­der cross­ing be­tween Egypt and Gaza in the far south of the coastal strip.

The fine print of the agree­ment will be pored over by both Is­rael and in­ter­na­tional donors to the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity run by Ab­bas for its im­pli­ca­tions. The deal may have pro­found le­gal con­se­quences in terms of aid fund­ing for the US.

Ab­bas has in­sisted he will only re­as­sume con­trol of Gaza if Ha­mas hands over power. Ha­mas, in turn, has said it will not dis­arm, even if it is will­ing to give Ab­bas con­trol of the Gaza gov­ern­ment.

The break­through – while pro­vi­sional – has been driven by the chang­ing dy­nam­ics in the wider Mid­dle East that has seen Egypt move to dis­place Qatar and Turkey as the key bro­ker in Pales­tinian af­fairs, with both Ha­mas and Fatah in­creas­ingly re­liant on Cairo’s spon­sor­ship.

Strug­gling with the fall­out from an Is­raeli-Egyp­tian bor­der block­ade since 2007, Ha­mas has found it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to gov­ern or pro­vide ba­sic ser­vices to Gaza’s 2 mil­lion res­i­dents.

The 82-year-old Ab­bas, mean­while, might be think­ing about his legacy. The po­lit­i­cal split has been a ma­jor stain on his rule, par­tic­u­larly at a time when at­tempts to ne­go­ti­ate the terms of Pales­tinian state­hood with Is­rael seem to be go­ing nowhere.

Egypt too – which has long re­sisted be­com­ing more deeply in­volved in Gaza – ap­pears to have shifted its own po­si­tion, driven in large part by the Isis-linked in­sur­gency in north­ern Si­nai cen­tred around the city of el-Ar­ish, a short drive from the Rafah bor­der cross­ing.

Pales­tinian of­fi­cials speak­ing to the Guardian suggested that given Egypt’s role, nei­ther Fatah nor Ha­mas wanted to be seen as ob­sta­cles to the ne­go­ti­a­tions be­ing bro­kered by Cairo – a fact that had given mo­men­tum to the talks.

“Where the Qataris did not suc­ceed, the Turks did not suc­ceed, where Swiss and Nor­we­gian ef­forts at rec­on­cil­i­a­tion failed, the Egyp­tians have suc­ceeded so far and in a few weeks,” said one of­fi­cial.

The devil, how­ever, is likely to be in the de­tail as the Pales­tinian sides at­tempt to ad­vance to far more con­tentious is­sues in­clud­ing na­tional elec­tions and the fate of Ha­mas’s armed wing.

With Ab­bas’s po­lit­i­cal pop­u­lar­ity at rock bot­tom both in the West Bank and Gaza, he and his clos­est cir­cle have shown lit­tle in­cli­na­tion to move for­ward with elec­tions in which a Ha­mas-backed party could – as it did in 2006 – do well with vot­ers.

And while Ab­bas has tried to in­sist that Ha­mas dis­band its armed wing, that is re­garded as a red line by the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Those is­sues will be fur­ther com­pli­cated by Is­rael and by ma­jor for­eign aid donors who will want to ex­am­ine how Ha­mas of­fi­cials are in­te­grated into Fatah-run min­istries if and when the deal moves for­ward.

The US Con­gress and state depart­ment – which lists Ha­mas as a for­eign ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion – is legally bound to ex­am­ine the im­pli­ca­tions of any deal, not least how it re­lates to US for­eign aid to the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity.

Pho­to­graph: Ibra­heem Abu Mustafa/Reuters

A man holds Pales­tinian flags in front of an Egyp­tian flag dur­ing cel­e­bra­tions of a deal in the Gaza Strip.

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