Im­prov­ing Egypt-Ha­mas ties un­set­tle Pales­tinian pol­i­tics

PLO slams Ha­ley for lead­ing ‘cru­sade’

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

A se­ries of meet­ings be­tween Ha­mas and se­nior of­fi­cials in Cairo in re­cent weeks points to im­prov­ing ties be­tween Egypt and the Is­lamist Pales­tinian move­ment, with im­pli­ca­tions for Gaza, Pales­tinian pol­i­tics and the wider re­gion. Is­mail Haniya, who has re­cently as­sumed the post of Ha­mas’s leader, said in a speech in Gaza yes­ter­day that re­la­tions with the Gaza Strip’s neigh­bor to the south­west were warm­ing. “We have launched a new chap­ter with Egypt and the re­la­tions have wit­nessed a big move,” he said.

For much of the last decade, Egypt has joined Is­rael in en­forc­ing a land, sea and air block­ade of the Gaza Strip, a move to pun­ish Ha­mas and its armed wing, which seized the ter­ri­tory in 2007 and has con­trolled it since. The sit­u­a­tion has wors­ened in the past month as Is­rael, at the re­quest of the West Bank-based Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity (PA), has cut elec­tric­ity to Gaza, leav­ing it with barely four hours of power a day. The sanc­tions are part of a years-long ef­fort by the PA, led by the ri­val Fa­tah party, to force Ha­mas to re­lin­quish power in Gaza and join a uni­fied gov­ern­ment. Power cuts have hit hos­pi­tals and wa­ter treat­ment plants, squeez­ing Gaza’s two mil­lion peo­ple amid a drain­ing heat­wave.

Sens­ing the need to act, and wor­ried about los­ing pop­u­lar sup­port, Ha­mas has sought to mend ties with Egypt, which con­trols their one bor­der cross­ing and has, un­der Pres­i­dent Ab­del Fat­tah al-Sisi, been highly wary of ties be­tween Ha­mas and the Mus­lim Brother­hood, which Sisi ousted from power af­ter mass protests.

Ha­mas’s newly ap­pointed leader in Gaza, Yahya Sin­war, whose back­ground is with the group’s mil­i­tant wing, met Egyp­tian of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing the in­tel­li­gence chief, last month. The meet­ings in Cairo were be­lieved to have been fa­cil­i­tated by Mo­ham­mad Dahlan, 55, a former se­nior Fa­tah of­fi­cial who is orig­i­nally from Gaza and is now a staunch op­po­nent of Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas, Fa­tah’s leader.

Haniya said that Egypt has been help­ing im­prove Gazans’ liv­ing con­di­tions and the talks have al­ready led to al­le­vi­at­ing some hard­ships caused by the block­ade. “We have found com­plete readi­ness by Egypt and their au­thor­i­ties have is­sued or­ders to im­ple­ment a pack­age of mea­sures that has be­gan with al­low­ing fuel into Gaza.” In his speech, Haniya also thanked Qatar and Saudi Ara­bia for fi­nan­cial sup­port.

Dahlan, who spends much of his time in the United Arab Emi­rates and is close to Egypt, has emerged as a power­bro­ker in the re­gion, de­ter­mined to bridge dif­fer­ences be­tween Ha­mas and Cairo and po­ten­tially chal­lenge Ab­bas for lead­er­ship. In that re­spect, closer ties be­tween Ha­mas and Cairo are a se­ri­ous threat to Ab­bas, re­gional an­a­lysts said. Not only be­cause they help to bol­ster Ha­mas’ cred­i­bil­ity in the re­gion, but be­cause they em­power Dahlan and un­der­mine the abil­ity of the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity to cast it­self as the dom­i­nant po­lit­i­cal body for Pales­tini­ans, they said.

Is­rael, which signed a 1979 peace treaty with Egypt and co­or­di­nates closely with it on se­cu­rity, is main­tain­ing a wary eye on dis­cus­sions be­tween Egypt and Ha­mas. Like the United States and the Euro­pean Union, it re­gards Ha­mas as a ter­ror­ist group and wants to keep its in­flu­ence con­tained. Af­ter the last round of meet­ings in Cairo, Ha­mas cleared land on its side of the bor­der, cre­at­ing a buf­fer zone with watch­tow­ers, cam­eras and barbed-wire fences in a con­ces­sion to se­cu­rity-con­scious Egypt.

“These mea­sures serve as a mes­sage of as­sur­ance to the Egyp­tian side,” Taw­fiq Abu Naeem, the Ha­mas-ap­pointed head of se­cu­rity ser­vices in Gaza, told re­porters. Since then, Ha­mas of­fi­cials have re­turned to Cairo for more talks. Sources say Ha­mas wants Egypt to open its Rafah cross­ing for longer and to in­crease en­ergy sup­plies and im­ports. Egypt wants in­for­ma­tion on “rad­i­cal el­e­ments” en­ter­ing and leav­ing Gaza and help with track­ing Is­lamic State-af­fil­i­ated mil­i­tants at­tack­ing Egyp­tian forces in north­ern Si­nai.

In a sign that the talks are rat­tling Pales­tinian pol­i­tics, Ab­bas, 82, will visit Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Sisi this week. “I believe re­la­tions be­tween Egypt and Ha­mas have taken a big move,” said Akram At­tal­lah, an in­de­pen­dent an­a­lyst in Gaza. “For the first time we can say there is joint ac­tion be­tween the two sides, a joint co­op­er­a­tion. That has never been of­fi­cial since the Ha­mas move­ment was founded 30 years ago.”

At­tal­lah sees Dahlan’s me­di­a­tion as crit­i­cal. As Ab­bas has grown more frus­trated with Ha­mas and tried to in­crease pres­sure on the group, it has strength­ened Dahlan’s role as a bro­ker. Ab­bas ex­pelled Dahlan from Fa­tah in 2012 and Dahlan has been in self-im­posed ex­ile since. The last thing Ab­bas wants is for him to re­turn to Gaza, with Egypt’s ap­proval, as a hero. “Dahlan em­ployed this mo­ment to present him­self as the most ef­fi­cient party in the Pales­tinian arena and a sav­ior for Ha­mas,” said At­tal­lah, sug­gest­ing each side had gained: Dahlan in terms of lever­age and Ha­mas as a po­lit­i­cal part­ner.

Re­gional an­a­lysts are closely watch­ing what closer ties with Egypt may mean for Ha­mas’ re­la­tions with Qatar, which in re­cent years has spent more than $500 mil­lion im­prov­ing in­fra­struc­ture and build­ing clin­ics in Gaza. Egypt and Saudi Ara­bia are now lead­ing a Sunni-Arab drive against Qatar over its ties with Iran, ac­cus­ing it of fo­ment­ing ter­ror­ism, a charge Doha de­nies. The an­a­lysts say if Egypt is forg­ing bet­ter re­la­tions with Ha­mas, it may well in­sist on Ha­mas giv­ing up its friend­ship with the emi­rate.

Mean­while, a se­nior Pales­tinian of­fi­cial yes­ter­day blasted US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s United Na­tions en­voy, ac­cus­ing her of car­ry­ing out a “cru­sade” against the Pales­tinian peo­ple. Hanan Ashrawi, a se­nior mem­ber of the Pales­tine Lib­er­a­tion Or­ga­ni­za­tion, said Nikki Ha­ley was lead­ing a “one-woman cru­sade... against Pales­tine and the Pales­tinian peo­ple in­di­vid­u­ally and col­lec­tively”. “Through an ob­ses­sive and tar­geted cam­paign of in­tim­i­da­tion and threats, Miss Ha­ley’s cru­sade does not miss an op­por­tu­nity to put pres­sure on any­one that seeks to chal­lenge Is­raeli im­punity,” she added.

Ashrawi said Ha­ley was echo­ing re­marks by Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu. Is­raeli for­eign min­istry spokesman Em­manuel Nahshon de­fended Ha­ley’s work. “Small won­der Hanan Ashrawi is un­happy - @nikki­ha­ley fights for a fair treat­ment of #Is­rael, ex­actly what the #Pales­tini­ans don’t want...,” he wrote on Twit­ter. Pales­tinian of­fi­cials have pri­vately ex­pressed in­creas­ing alarm at the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s pro-Is­rael stance as the US pres­i­dent seeks to restart peace ne­go­ti­a­tions. How­ever un­til yes­ter­day, they had pub­licly re­frained from crit­i­ciz­ing se­nior US of­fi­cials. Ha­ley vis­ited Is­rael and the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries in June.

Ashrawi said Ha­ley was “com­pound­ing the vic­tim­iza­tion of the Pales­tinian peo­ple and brow­beat­ing the in­sti­tu­tions that are meant to de­fend their rights”. The state­ment was dis­trib­uted by the PLO. Since be­ing nom­i­nated by Trump af­ter his Novem­ber vic­tory, Ha­ley has con­sis­tently ac­cused the United Na­tions of sys­tem­atic bias against Is­rael. The US ve­toed the ap­point­ment of a former Pales­tinian prime min­is­ter as UN en­voy to Libya, while Ha­ley has called on UN Sec­re­tary Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res to in­ter­vene to block a forth­com­ing vote on the city of He­bron which de­clares the West Bank city un­der threat.

Trump came to of­fice seek­ing to pur­sue what he has called the “ul­ti­mate deal” and has pledged to restart ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Is­raeli and Pales­tinian lead­ers. But Arab me­dia re­ports claim talks be­tween the Pales­tinian lead­er­ship and Trump and his team - in­clud­ing his ad­viser and son-in-law Jared Kush­ner - have been frac­tious, al­le­ga­tions de­nied by the Pales­tini­ans. Ashrawi said Ha­ley was un­der­min­ing the chances of peace by “pur­su­ing her own agenda con­sis­tent with her anti-Pales­tinian ob­ses­sion and as an apol­o­gist for Is­rael”.

Is­rael oc­cu­pied the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries in 1967 in a move never rec­og­nized by the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity. In De­cem­ber the United Na­tions Se­cu­rity Coun­cil adopted a land­mark res­o­lu­tion con­demn­ing Is­raeli set­tle­ments in the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries. — Agen­cies

GAZA: Ha­mas leader Is­mail Haniya gives a speech in Gaza City yes­ter­day. — AFP

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