Palestinian pact hailed as step to unite territories
Deal places Gaza, West Bank under single government
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 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.
Both sides hailed the agreement as a significant step toward uniting the Palestinian territories, but 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 on the ground in the coming weeks.
The two 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 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.
Hamas has fought three wars with Israel, and has insisted on its right to maintain control of its “weapons of resistance,” including thousands of rockets, missiles and drones, as well as a network of fortified tunnels.
In the short term, the agreement promises to ease conditions in Gaza that aid organizations have warned constitute an emerging humanitarian crisis.
The Palestinian Authority has promised to lift sanctions that it imposed on Gaza earlier this year 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 and stopped paying government salaries in Gaza.
Egypt, which brokered the agreement, 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, tightly regulating the flow of goods and people in what critics called an economic blockade of the territory.
“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 that if all went well, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, could visit Gaza in the coming month, his first visit to the embattled coastal strip in a decade. Although he was not in Cairo, Abbas gave his blessing to the deal, which he hailed as a “final agreement,” according to Agence France-presse.
Palestinians cautiously celebrated the deal, their enthusiasm tempered by memories of many failed previous initiatives.
In Gaza City, vendors passed out sweets to children in Soldier’s Square, a park at the center of town. Mona Khfaja, 37, a pharmacist who said she had been unable to leave Gaza for a year to seek treatment for kidney disease, said popular dissatisfaction under the border restrictions — what she said had verged on a “hungry revolution” — had forced political leaders to the table.
“The consequences of division are worse than the repercussion of wars,” she said. “We do not want the flags of Fatah and Hamas, only the Palestinian flag.”