The Daily News Egypt - - Front Page - By Amira El-Fekki

Hopes for an of­ten failed Pales­tinian rec­on­cil­i­a­tion re­vived. As talks re­sume in Cairo, Fatah and Ha­mas are strongly com­pelled to sort their con­flicts and abide by the Egyp­tian vi­sion to find a way out of a cri­sis that is about to blow up in ev­ery one’s face.

Re­gional con­flicts catas­trophised by ter­ror­ism and po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sion, a dras­tic sit­u­a­tion in the Gaza Strip and the fad­ing of talks on the two-state so­lu­tion be­tween Pales­tine and Is­rael in­di­cate that na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion shouldn’t be over­looked.

The an­nounce­ment of agree­ments reached be­tween Fatah and Ha­mas are al­ready cel­e­brated. Ha­mas is re­treat­ing un­der Egyp­tian com­mand. But the process re­mains still in the very be­gin­ning and will pro­ceed step by step amid press­ing but del­i­cate is­sues.

Egypt adopts new, firm strat­egy

There is gen­eral op­ti­mism that the on­go­ing rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process is dif­fer­ent this time. This is not the re­sult of Pales­tinian fac­tions’ de­sire to come to­gether but rather a de­ter­mined Egyp­tian ac­tion. In a re­cent in­ter­view, Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas in­sisted that no for­eign in­ter­fer­ence with Pales­tinian af­fairs would be tol­er­ates, ex­cept for the Egyp­tian role.

Egypt didn’t present it­self this time as a mere spon­sor of talks, it will be the pol­icy maker. “The pres­ence of Di­rec­tor of the Gen­eral In­tel­li­gence Ser­vice dur­ing the re­cent cabi­net meet­ing in Gaza, echo­ing Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah Al-Sisi’s mes­sage aimed at stat­ing that Gaza is un­der Egyp­tian sovereignty and pro­tec­tion,” said Mo­hamed Abu Samra.

Samra, chair­man of the Is­lamic Na­tional Move­ment in Pales­tine and Al-Quds Cen­tre for Stud­ies, said that he be­lieves that Egypt wants to have a strong­hold be­fore ne­go­ti­at­ing with Is­rael, in a sem­i­nar hosted by Daily News Egypt days af­ter the first en­try of the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity to Gaza since 2014 on Tues­day.

Egypt’s changed strat­egy was no­tably trans­lated in its at­ti­tude to­wards Ha­mas. It re­moved the or­gan­i­sa­tion from its ter­ror­ist list and in­vited over of­fi­cials, whom in turn, were given a space in pro-state Egyp­tian me­dia.

The pro­tec­tion of Egypt’s na­tional se­cu­rity was the rea­son for both pre­vi­ous crack­down and cur­rent col­lab­o­ra­tion with Ha­mas in Gaza.

“The new ap­proach fo­cuses on the Gaza Strip and how to change pub­lic per­cep­tion of Ha­mas and that area of Pales­tine, es­pe­cially that Egypt doesn’t want more ter­ror­ism pro­duced,” said Fatah mem­ber and po­lit­i­cal an­a­lyst Ay­man Ri­gib.

Egypt’s pres­ence in Gaza is ex­pected to be fur­ther re­in­forced, i nclud­ing the re-open­ing of its con­sulate there.

While rec­on­cil­i­a­tion might still face sev­eral ob­sta­cles re­lated to the con­flict­ing points be­tween the two Pales­tinian groups, Egypt is “us­ing soft diplo­macy” ac­cord­ing to Ri­gib.

More­over, ac­cord­ing to Abu Samra, it has en­vi­sioned how rec­on­cil­i­a­tion steps on the ground should be like when it comes to the dif­fer­ent se­cu­rity bod­ies and the arms of Ha­mas’ mil­i­tary wing.

Ha­mas gives in

The sit­u­a­tion in Gaza and in­ter­na­tional crack­down leave lit­tle space for Ha­mas to be stub­born about con­tin­u­ing as it is.So far, it has com­mit­ted to what the Egyp­tian Gen­eral In­tel­li­gence asked.

Ri­gib and Abu Samra agreed on Ha­mas’ fail­ure to han­dle the bur­den of a coun­try.

“It was not that Ha­mas suf­fered fi­nan­cially,” Ri­gib ar­gued. “More­over, the cur­rent strate­gies of Egypt and the new Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion aim at hav­ing no role for po­lit­i­cal Is­lam. Even though Ha­mas wouldn’t com­pletely dis­so­ci­ate it­self from the Mus­lim Brother­hood, it would at least take step back.”

Ha­mas re­moved ref­er­ence to the Mus­lim Brother­hood in its new dec­la­ra­tion of May, as op­posed to the older ver­sion which stated they were the mil­i­tary wing of the brother­hood in Pales­tine.

Ac­cord­ing to Abu Samra, Egypt made it clear to Ha­mas that abid­ing by rec­on­cil­i­a­tion plans would be the only way to re­main, be re­moved from ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions lists. Not only so, but it would also mean for Ha­mas to share po­lit­i­cal power in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. “Ha­mas re­alises that los­ing Egypt would mean los­ing all”.

Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion im­ple­men­ta­tion, chal­lenges

Ha­mas leader Ye­hia Sin­war said in re­cent state­ments that the group will never go back to the in­ter­nal di­vi­sion un­der any cir­cum­stances. Ha­mas has al­ready dis­solved its ad­min­is­tra­tive bu­reau and al­lowed the PA into Gaza. Mean­while , Ab­bas has in­sisted on the dis­ar­ma­ment of Ha­mas.

Yet, one ma­jor step of the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion’s im­ple­men­ta­tion would di­rectly im­pact Ab­bas: elec­tions.Abu Samra even ar­gued that Fatah was com­pelled to agree to rec­on­cil­i­a­tion fol­low­ing Ha­mas’ un­ex­pected com­pli­ance.

This comes amid an on­go­ing Fatah-Ha­mas rec­on­cil­i­a­tion but a Fatah-Fatah dis­pute. Ab­bas’ bit­ter ri­val Mo­hamed Dahlan is part­ner­ing up with Ha­mas.

Ri­gib fears Ab­bas would stall the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process to re­main in power as they put other names on the ta­ble as po­ten­tial can­di­dates. Al-though im­pris­oned, Mar­wan Al-Bargh­outi re­mains highly pop­u­lar. Dahlan is also in the pic­ture.

Mean­while, Ab­del Qader Yassin, Pales­tinian ac­tivist, his­to­rian and writer doesn’t share an op­ti­mistic opin­ion on the suc­cess of the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. He pointed out to what he de­scribed as “se­ri­ous threats,” say­ing the Fatah and Ha­mas have op­pos­ing pro­grams es­pe­cially on armed re­sis­tance.

What he fears is more blood­shed be­tween dis­puted fac­tions, lack of in­ter­nal democ­racy and po­lit­i­cal vi­sion, and if hav­ing to sit with Is­rael as weaker link.

“We must bear in mind that na­tional rec­on­cil­i­a­tion could be a step to but is not na­tional unity,” he said. “I think that peo­ple sit­ing on rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ta­ble shouldn’t have dou­ble stan­dards or con­flict­ing po­si­tions.”

The Gaza Strip cri­sis

In 2007, Is­rael im­posed a land, air and sea block­ade on Gaza.Ten years on, the hu­man­i­tar­ian cri­sis reaches a peak when Ab­bas de­cided to stop pay­ing Is­raeli elec­tric­ity sup­ply to the Strip.

In June, UN Hu­man­i­tar­ian Co­or­di­na­tor in oc­cu­pied Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries Robert Piper’s de­scribed as “dis­as­trous con­se­quences of a fur­ther re­duc­tion in elec­tric­ity-sup­ply to the Gaza Strip on the liv­ing con­di­tions of two mil­lion Pales­tini­ans” that is “likely to to lead to a to­tal col­lapse of ba­sic ser­vices, in­clud­ing crit­i­cal func­tions in the health, wa­ter and san­i­ta­tion sec­tor.”

More­over, bor­der cross­ings move­ment of peo­ple and goods are re­stricted by both Is­rael and Gaza, which ac­cord­ing to a May re­port of the UNRWA “un­der­mined the liv­ing con­di­tions of Pales­tini­ans in Gaza.”

Pend­ing is­sues in Gaza re­quire im­me­di­ate ac­tion within the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process, Ha­mas of­fi­cials have said. Ac­cord­ing to Spokesper­son of the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity Youssef Al-Mah­moud said on Tues­day, they would be sub­ject of dis­cus­sion in the next Cairo meet­ing.

In Au­gust, 22-year-old Pales­tinian writer Mo­hanad You­nis took his life. Although re­ports talked about per­sonal is­sues with his fa­ther, You­nis’ death nonethe­less sparked de­bate on the sense of hope­less­ness to dream or be am­bi­tious tak­ing over in Gaza.

“We are talk­ing about daily at­tempts of youth sui­cide, of which at least one suc­ceeds,” said Abu Samra. “We be­came a poor and sick so­ci­ety,” he added.

Abu Samra didn’t turn blind eye to the re­spon­si­bil­ity of Ha­mas – among oth­ers – to­wards the cri­sis: they failed to rule on the grounds, which would have re­quired them to em­brace oth­ers not to take over ev­ery­thing.

“I wit­nessed how hu­man­i­tar­ian aid was stolen from the peo­ple – soda cans do­nated by other coun­tries be­ing sold to them at the su­per­mar­ket. Ev­ery­day, the gov­ern­ment sought new ways ev­ery­day to raise taxes, while pro­vid­ing no ser­vices in ex­change. When you go to a hospi­tal, you are re­quired to bring your medicine and equip­ment,” he said.

He con­tin­ued that if rec­on­cil­i­a­tion is post­poned this time, the Gaza cri­sis would blow up in the face of Ha­mas and the PA even be­fore Egypt and Is­rael.

A deep-rooted in­ter­nal con­flict

The con­flict be­tween Pales­tinian fac­tions ex­tended over time, wit­nessed blood­shed and a num­ber of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion at­tempts made by Arab states failed over the past years. The two ma­jor par­ties of the con­flict as we know it to­day are the Is­lamic Re­sis­tance Move­ment known as Ha­mas and the Fatah Move­ment.

The Pales­tinian Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion (PLO) was es­tab­lished in 1964, as the first Pales­tinian em­bod­i­ment of na­tional move­ment. But soon, the Mus­lim Brother­hood or­ga­ni­za­tion, which dis­liked Fatah’s con­trol of the PLO, launched its project of spread­ing through­out the so­ci­ety and form­ing a new Is­lamist gen­er­a­tion.

“The rise of the Is­lamists in Pales­tine was also fa­cil­i­tated by Is­rael, which saw an op­por­tu­nity in weak­en­ing the Pales­tinian au­thor­ity through the pres­ence of an al­ter­na­tive to the PLO,” said Ri­gib.

By the end of 1987, the First In­tifada took place. In 1988, Ha­mas is­sued its first covenant in which it ex­plic­itly stated that it was the wing of the Mus­lim Brother­hood in Pales­tine.

The strug­gle be­tween PLO na­tion­al­ists and po­lit­i­cal Is­lamists turned into con­flict in the 1990’s.

Ha­mas re­jected the 1993 Oslo Ac­cords and the Pales­tinian Na­tional Au­thor­ity elec­tions that fol­lowed. “It con­sid­ered all of it an act of be­trayal,” said Ri­gib.

Nearly ten years later ,this changed with Ha­mas run­ning in na­tional elec­tions. Ac­cord­ing to Ri­gib who was work­ing at the time at Al-Aqsa Uni­ver­sity and con­duct­ing re­search and polls, Fatah didn’t stand much chance in the 2006 elec­tions.

“It’s been 11 years of bad gov­er­nance, peo­ple wanted to try Ha­mas in­stead.In fact, we ad­vised 2005 pres­i­dent-elect Mah­moud Ab­bas against hold­ing the elec­tions, but he in­sisted un­der the pre­text of US pres­sure to in­clude Ha­mas,” Ri­gib said. This meant the par­tic­i­pa­tion of a group that wasn’t part of the PLO and risk of fur­ther blood­shed.

“Ha­mas was led straight to tri­umph,” he com­mented, which he be­lieves was the re­sult of plot­ting by the US, Is­rael and even Qatar.

Yet, the US, Is­rael and the EU didn’t rec­og­nize the Ha­mas gov­ern­ment.

Yassin high­lighted the then turn­ing point which re­sulted in sep­a­ra­tion be­tween the West Bank and Gaza. “First, Fatah’s se­cu­rity bod­ies en­sured Ha­mas wouldn’t be em­pow­ered in the Gaza strip. They wouldn’t al­low [Ha­mas leader] Is­mail Haniyeh to pass in a street where a Fatah se­cu­rity of­fi­cer was present,” Yassin stated.

Dis­agree­ing on power han­dling, bloody con­flict erupted in 2007 un­til Ha­mas mil­i­tants took over Fatah-con­trolled in­sti­tu­tions in Gaza.

Blood­shed shortly fol­lowed a failed rec­on­cil­i­a­tion at­tempt in 2007 known as the Mecca Agree­ment. “I think it was all a strat­egy spon­sored by Is­rael from the be­gin­ning to have the two pow­ers sep­a­rated.The Is­raelis then had a strong rea­son to halt ne­go­ti­a­tions, which was the ab­sence of a ne­go­ti­a­tion party, ”Yassin ar­gued.

As so, a se­ries of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion at­tempts in­clud­ing talks in 2009 in Cairo and 2010 in Da­m­as­cus, a 2011 Cairo agree­ment and 2012 Doha agree­ment didn’t suc­ceed in end­ing years of di­vi­sion. In the mean­time, Gaza was com­ing un­der a loom­ing block­ade and painful war.


DNE sem­i­nar on Pales­tinian rec­on­cil­i­a­tion. Right: Ay­man Rigib, Cen­tre: Ab­del Qader Yassin, Left:Mo­hamed Abu Samra

Head of the Egyp­tian Gen­eral In­tel­li­gence Khaled Fawzy was widely re­ceived in Gaza last week

Govern­ment of na­tional unity con­vened in Gaza on Tues­day for the first time since 2014

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