FATAH AND HAMAS DEAL OFFERS NEW HOPE TO PEOPLE OF GAZA
Reconciliation between rival Palestinian factions after 10-year rift announced to much fanfare in Cairo
The secular nationalist Fatah movement and the Islamist group Hamas signed a Palestinian reconciliation deal yesterday that aims to return a semblance of security and economic opportunity to the Gaza Strip.
The agreement includes arrangements to bring western-trained Palestinian Authority (PA) police to the beleaguered territory, administrative concessions on civil service salaries, and the removal of Hamas forces from the Rafah border crossing into Egypt, according to Egyptian security sources.
For Egypt, the deal signed by Saleh Al Aruri of Hamas and Fatah’s Azam Al Ahmad at the Cairo headquarters of the General Intelligence Service, is a point of pride. The presence of Egyptian intelligence chief Khaled Fawzi signalled Cairo’s expectation that Hamas and Fatah would settle their differences in the interest of improving security and gaining independence for Palestine.
For Palestinians, the success of the attempt to end a 10-year rift in their leadership is a matter of survival.
“The past 10 years have been catastrophic,” said Mkhaimar Abusada, a political scientist at Al Azhar University in Gaza. “If we don’t succeed this time forget about it – this is going to be the end.”
That sense of urgency was on display last week as the Palestinian cabinet convened its first meeting in Gaza since 2014.
The Cairo accord says the consensus government will officially take full administrative control of Gaza from December 1, with the two sides returning to the Egyptian capital in November for more talks.
Hamas has made serious concessions by ceding administrative powers and allowing armed officers from Fatah back on the streets of Gaza.
But the movement’s leadership thinks the deal cements its place inside Palestinian governing structures, facilitates the return of basic services to its Gaza constituents and safeguards the survival of its military capabilities.
“Unlike previous agreements, the current one will allow Hamas to participate in the new unity government,” said Salah Bardawil, a high-ranking official. “Hamas will not lay down its arms, and resistance to Israel is not negotiable.”
But for the nearly two million
residents of Gaza, the hope now is that abandonment of factionalism and Egyptian-led diplomacy will give them breathing space to rebuild their lives.
“The rift has caused endless damage,” said Samyah Maher, an unemployed 22-year-old with a degree in computer engineering from a local technical college.
“Homes and schools go for hours without electricity. The border crossings need to be opened and rebuilding from the last war is still not finished.”
The 2014 war between Hamas and Israel damaged 171,000 residential structures in Gaza and 33,000 people have yet to return to their homes.
Analysts say the deal to fund a working civil service in Gaza will stop the cycle of “de-development” in the strip resulting from Hamas’ domination of the territory and three major wars with Israel over the course of 10 years.
“Real international assistance to the Palestinians will only come if the donors are convinced there will not be another war and the same is true for global investors looking to partner with the PA to develop the natural gas fields off the Gaza coast,” Mr Abusada said.
The reconciliation pact demonstrates Egypt’s determination to assert its role as the indispensable power broker in the region as ISIL faces defeat in Iraq and Syria and the Sunni Arab countries set their sights on the Iranian threat.
The effort also represents Cairo’s regionwide drive to marginalise the Muslim Brotherhood. “Hamas is in crisis and was forced to break its organisational relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood,” said Amin El Mahdy, an Egyptian political analyst who maintains contacts with Israeli officials and Palestinian politicians. “Reality is stronger than politics and ideology.”
Still, there is satisfaction within Egypt’s governing circle that the Islamists’ regional allies were excluded from the reconciliation process and from the diplomatic overtures towards Israel.
“There was a competition between Egypt, Turkey and Qatar, with each trying to prove that they could deal with Hamas alone,” said Saeed Okasha, an Israeli affairs analyst with the quasi-governmental Al Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.
“But Egypt showed it was the only one to produce a productive dialogue between Hamas and Fatah.”
The effort also represents Egypt’s regionwide drive to marginalise the Muslim Brotherhood
Palestinians celebrate in Gaza City after Hamas announced it had reached a deal with rival Fatah