Hamas and Fatah sign preliminary deal over control of the Gaza Strip
The rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah have signed a preliminary reconciliation deal in the latest in a series of attempts to end a decade-long Palestinian territorial, political and ideological split that has crippled statehood aspirations.
The deal, signed in Cairo yesterday in the presence of Egyptian intelligence officials, focuses on who should control the contested Gaza Strip and on what terms.
The two sides’ mutual hostility has defined the stark geographical and ideological division in Palestinian society between the West Bank and Gaza, which they have ruled separately since clashes that broke out in 2007.
Hamas was represented at the signing by Saleh al-Arouri, who has been accused by Israel of masterminding attacks on Israelis from his exile in Turkey and elsewhere.
Under the agreement, the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) is to resume full control of the Hamascontrolled Gaza Strip by 1 December, according to a statement from Egypt’s intelligence agency. According to reports the agreement would also see PA forces take control of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.
In exchange, the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and the PA are expected to lift crippling restrictions on electricity supplies to Gaza that have made the lives of its 2 million residents miserable in recent months.
While significant on paper at least, the deal is similar to previous attempts at reconciliation between the two sides. These were unveiled amid fanfare and public declarations of unity, only to quickly run into the sand.
Despite the reported agreement on the Rafah crossing, it is unlikely to make much difference in practical terms for goods entering Gaza from Egypt, while lorry traffic to the northern Sinai remains restricted by the Egyptian military because of the continuing security crisis there.
A top Fatah official said Abbas would visit Gaza “within less than a month”. If it goes ahead, the Abbas visit will be the first since 2007, when the Islamist Hamas movement assumed control of Gaza. A year after winning Palestinian parliament elections, Hamas evicted Abbas’s western-backed PA from Gaza. Abbas was left with autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
Over the past decade, each side has deepened its control over its territory, making it increasingly difficult to forge compromises.
The current round of talks has 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.
The fine print of the deal will be pored over by Israel and international donors to the PA for its implications. The agreement may have profound legal consequences in terms of aid funding from the US.
Abbas has insisted he will reassume control of Gaza only 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.
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, which 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.
Responding to news of the deal, Israel said any Palestinian reconciliation deal must abide by international agreements and terms set by the Middle East Quartet including the recognition of Israel and Hamas giving up its arms.
The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, left, and the Palestinian Authority are expected to lift curbs on the supply of electricity to Gaza