Ex-Gaza chief says Ha­mas deal will open bor­der

Kuwait Times - - FRONT PAGE -

RA­MAL­LAH: An ex­iled Pales­tinian politi­cian who qui­etly ne­go­ti­ated a power-shar­ing deal for Gaza with for­mer arch foe Ha­mas dis­cussed the de­tails for the first time in an in­ter­view, say­ing he ex­pects it to lead to a swift open­ing of the block­aded ter­ri­tory’s bor­der with Egypt and an eas­ing of crip­pling power out­ages. The Egypt-Gaza bor­der cross­ing is ex­pected to open by late Au­gust and fund­ing has been se­cured for a $100 mil­lion power plant, Mo­hammed Dahlan, a for­mer Gaza se­cu­rity chief, told AP in a phone in­ter­view from the United Arab Emi­rates.

Dahlan said his chem­istry with Gaza’s newly elected Ha­mas chief, Ye­hiyeh Sin­war, helped forge the once un­think­able al­liance. The two grew up in the tough streets of south­ern Gaza’s Khan You­nis refugee camp be­fore join­ing ri­val camps, the Is­lamic mil­i­tant Ha­mas and the main­stream Fatah move­ment, re­spec­tively. “We both re­al­ized it’s time to find a way out” for Gaza, Dahlan, 55, said in an hour-long con­ver­sa­tion Satur­day. He said both sides had learned lessons from the de­struc­tive ri­val­ries of the past.

The deal, backed by Egypt and the UAE, is still in the early stages of im­ple­men­ta­tion. There are no guar­an­tees of suc­cess, but all in­volved seem to ben­e­fit. It en­ables Egypt to con­tain Ha­mas, the mil­i­tants on its doorstep, through new se­cu­rity ar­range­ments. Dahlan has a chance to re­turn to Pales­tinian pol­i­tics. And cash-strapped Ha­mas can pro­long its rule through the promised bor­der open­ing.

If it goes ahead, the deal could de­liver a crush­ing blow to Pales­tinian Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas, who pre­sides over au­ton­o­mous en­claves in the Is­raeli-oc­cu­pied West Bank. Ab­bas has a toxic re­la­tion­ship with Ha­mas, which seized Gaza from him in 2007, and with Dahlan, a for­mer top aide he sent pack­ing in 2010. A Ha­mas-Dahlan al­liance would fur­ther side­line the 82-year-old West­ern-backed Ab­bas and un­der­cut his claim that he rep­re­sents all Pales­tini­ans.

Mini-state

The ob­jec­tives of the Dahlan-Ha­mas deal - end­ing the bor­der block­ade, re­viv­ing Gaza’s bat­tered econ­omy - could also weaken Pales­tinian state­hood as­pi­ra­tions by cre­at­ing a “mini-state” in Gaza. For more than two decades, Pales­tinian lead­ers, in­clud­ing Ab­bas, have un­suc­cess­fully sought to es­tab­lish a state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem in ne­go­ti­a­tions with Is­rael. Is­rael, which cap­tured those ter­ri­to­ries in the 1967 Mideast war, with­drew from Gaza in 2005, but keeps a tight grip on the rest.

The ter­ri­to­ries sit on op­po­site sides of Is­rael which has deep­ened the ge­o­graphic sep­a­ra­tion with strict travel bans. Dahlan dis­missed con­cerns that his deal with Ha­mas will grad­u­ally turn Gaza into a separate en­tity. “We are pa­tri­ots, not sep­a­ratists,” he said, adding that he would do ev­ery­thing in his power to pre­vent a fur­ther drift­ing apart of the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries.

The multi-mil­lion­aire with far-flung busi­ness in­ter­ests in the re­gion and close ties to lead­ers of Egypt and the UAE said he no longer as­pires to re­place Ab­bas. “I have no am­bi­tions to be pres­i­dent,” he said. “Maybe that was the case when I was younger, but now I see the sit­u­a­tion. ... Seventy per­cent of the land is in the hands of the Is­raelis, and they have no in­ten­tions to give us a state.”

Dahlan said the new deal is meant to re­vive Pales­tinian po­lit­i­cal in­sti­tu­tions that have been par­a­lyzed since the 2007 split be­tween Ha­mas and Fatah. This would in­clude a new at­tempt to form a na­tional unity gov­ern­ment and re­vive par­lia­ment. Dahlan said Ab­bas is wel­come to lead such ef­forts, but that “we are not go­ing to wait for him for­ever” to make a move. Pre­vi­ous Ab­bas-led ef­forts to form a unity gov­ern­ment with Ha­mas back­ing have failed over the years, with both sides ul­ti­mately re­fus­ing to give up power in their re­spec­tive ter­ri­to­ries.

Egypt’s bless­ing

In re­cent weeks, Ab­bas took a dif­fer­ent ap­proach, step­ping up fi­nan­cial pres­sure on Gaza to force Ha­mas to cede ground there. Az­zam Al-Ahmed, an Ab­bas aide who ne­go­ti­ated with Ha­mas in the past, said yes­ter­day that the Dahlan-Ha­mas un­der­stand­ings “are go­ing nowhere”. He said Ab­bas’ Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity sup­ports Gaza with $1.2 bil­lion ev­ery year, cov­er­ing wages of ex-loy­al­ists, so­cial wel­fare pay­ments and elec­tric­ity. He sug­gested Dahlan and Ha­mas would be un­able to cover such sums.

Ahmed also said Egypt as­sured Ab­bas “that they are not go­ing to help any new en­tity in Gaza”. How­ever, the lengthy ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Dahlan’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives and a Ha­mas team in Cairo last month would not have been pos­si­ble with­out Egypt’s bless­ing, par­tic­i­pants said. Dahlan pre­sented an up­beat vi­sion of Gaza, a crowded sliver of land on the Mediter­ranean with 2 mil­lion peo­ple.

He said he has raised funds to re­fur­bish Gaza’s gate to the world, the Rafah cross­ing with Egypt, and that he re­ceived Egyp­tian as­sur­ances that the cross­ing will open by the end of Au­gust. “Ev­ery­one who needs to travel will be able to travel,” he said. Over the past decade, Rafah only opened spo­rad­i­cally be­cause of the block­ade, and thou­sands of Gazans are cur­rently on wait­ing lists, hop­ing to travel abroad for study, work or med­i­cal care.

The UAE has promised $100 mil­lion for a power plant that would be built on the Egyp­tian side of the bor­der, Dahlan said. Once the ex­act lo­ca­tion is cho­sen, con­struc­tion would take 18 months, he said. In re­cent years, Gazans have en­dured block­ade-linked rolling power cuts, most re­cently of as long as 20 hours a day. Egypt has been send­ing fuel to Gaza’s ex­ist­ing power plant in re­cent weeks, as part of the un­der­stand­ings.

Ha­mas role

Ha­mas of­fi­cials de­scrib­ing the deal have said their group will re­main in charge of se­cu­rity in Gaza. Dahlan is to raise money and ad­vo­cate for Gaza abroad. He hasn’t been back to Gaza since the Ha­mas takeover in 2007. In the months pre­ced­ing the takeover, he had led Fatah forces in Gaza street bat­tles with Ha­mas, and griev­ances of fam­i­lies of close to 400 peo­ple killed in the fight­ing - from both sides - still haven’t been ad­dressed.

Dis­burse­ments to the fam­i­lies from a multi-mil­lion-dol­lar UAE-backed com­pen­sa­tion fund are to be­gin soon, in an at­tempt to buy calm that is in line with tribal tra­di­tions. Sev­eral dozen of Dahlan’s lieu­tenants and key sup­port­ers are ex­pected to re­turn from ex­ile as part of the ar­range­ments. Dahlan said he will re­main in ex­ile. “It’s bet­ter for Gaza that I stay in the di­as­pora and ap­proach ev­ery­one who can ex­tend a help­ing hand to Gaza,” he said.

A Pales­tinian boy runs for cover from tear gas dur­ing clashes be­tween demon­stra­tors and Is­raeli se­cu­rity forces at the Qa­landiya check­point be­tween Ra­mal­lah and Jerusalem in the oc­cu­pied West Bank yes­ter­day as crowds protest against new Is­raeli se­cu­rity mea­sures im­ple­mented at Al-Aqsa mosque com­plex. — AP

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