2 main Palestinian factions sign reconciliation agreement
CAIRO — The main Palestinian factions signed a reconciliation agreement Thursday that aims to mend their decade-old rift and places Gaza and the West Bank under one government for the first time since 2007.
Under the agreement, the Palestinian Authority, which now controls the West Bank, would in the coming weeks take administrative control of Gaza and police its borders, merging its security forces and ministries with those of Hamas, the Islamic militant group that controls the coastal strip.
While both sides hailed the agreement as a significant step toward uniting the Palestinian territories — and potential relief for Gazans suffering dire shortages of electricity and medical supplies — it left many thornier issues unresolved, including the fate of the main Hamas militia and the network of tunnels under Gaza used by fighters and smugglers.
Officials from both sides stressed that the agreement, brokered by Egypt, was a first step, and that much depends on how events unfurl.
The sides agreed to begin talks next month to form a unity government that would oversee both territories. Those talks would have to wrestle with the issues that derailed previous peace initiatives.
Palestinian officials said the deal reached Thursday enjoyed a greater chance of success because it is backed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and, they believe, the United States and Israel.
But the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, threw cold water on it, saying that Israel “objects to any reconciliation that does not include” accepting international agreements, recognizing Israel and disarming Hamas.
The Palestinian Authority has promised to lift sanctions that it imposed on Gaza as part of its effort to pressure Hamas into talks. The government, led by the Fatah faction, cut electricity supplies to a few hours a day.
Egypt has promised to open the Rafah border crossing once it comes under Palestinian Authority control. Egypt and Israel had closed Gaza’s border crossings out of security concerns.
“The people need to feel there is something from this agreement — electricity, medical supplies, the ability to travel for surgery,” said Ahmed Yousef, a senior Hamas official.
Palestinian officials said the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, could visit Gaza in the coming month, his first visit there in a decade. Abbas gave his blessing to the deal, which he hailed as a “final agreement,” according to Agence FrancePresse.
Yet the agreement left others underwhelmed. Among the many unresolved differences between the sides is the gulf between the Palestinian Authority’s goal of achieving statehood through diplomacy and Hamas’ mission of armed resistance and liberation.
‘Not part of solution’
Israel has warned that it could not accept a unity government that included Hamas. Netanyahu’s office said that Israel would “follow developments on the ground and will act accordingly.”
But later on Facebook, Netanyahu issued a denunciation of Hamas.
“Reconciling with massmurderers is part of the problem, not part of the solution,” he said.
Palestinians celebrate the reconciliation agreement between rivals Hamas and Fatah. The agreement could pave the way for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to resume governing the Gaza Strip, a decade after Hamas overran it.