Ha­mas and Fatah sign pre­lim­i­nary deal over con­trol of the Gaza Strip

The Guardian - - INTERNATIONAL - Peter Beau­mont Jerusalem

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

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