RAMALLAH, West Bank — The Palestinian government announced Sept. 25 that Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and other ministers will be heading to the Gaza Strip Oct. 2 to hold the weekly Cabinet session on Oct. 3. This came in response to the PLO Central Committee’s call Sept. 24 for the government to assume its responsibility in the Gaza Strip.
Moreover, in a Sept. 23 meeting headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah Central Committee called on the consensus government to go to the Gaza Strip. This step will be the government’s first genuine move toward exerting its powers at all levels in the Gaza Strip, after Hamas announced Sept. 17 the dissolution of the Gaza Strip’s administrative committee.
In a Sept. 26 meeting, Hamdallah stressed that once “the government is handed its responsibilities in Gaza, its work will be comprehensive and effective.” He added that the government “decided to form a number of ministerial committees tasked with handling the handover process of the crossings, security and government departments. It will also address the impact and repercussions of the split, as well as all of the subsequent civil, administrative and legal issues, obstacles and challenges.”
The visit is perceived to be the first government response to Hamas’ call for the government carry out its duties in the Gaza Strip. Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas' political bureau, said at a Sept. 19 press conference, “We welcome the National Consensus Government in the Gaza Strip.”
The government is scheduled to arrive in the Gaza Strip Oct. 2 for a two- or three-day visit to evaluate the situation and needs in the ministries in Gaza and to take over its tasks and powers.
Mufid al-Hasayneh, the minister of public works and housing, told Al-Monitor, “The government, led by Rami Hamdallah, supports the reconciliation efforts and the visit to the Gaza Strip. [The visit] is designed to have the government learn about the needs of all of the ministries in the Gaza Strip and examine the way to manage their affairs.”
He added, “The government’s vision is clear, and its plans are ready to be implemented in the Gaza Strip,” in reference to the government plans that were previously developed following the formation of the consensus government under the Beach Camp Agreement.
Hasayneh said, “At Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah’s request, the consensus government ministers started to prepare studies and perceptions on the need of the Gaza Strip ministries. This is in order for the government to work on them immediately following the handing over.”
The first step to reconciliation was the dissolution of the Gaza Strip’s administrative committee. Now that Hamas has announced the dissolution, the next step is holding legislative, presidential and PLO Palestinian National Council (PNC) elections.
Fatah Central Committee member Mohammad Shtayyeh told Al-Monitor that the reconciliation will be achieved gradually. Some of the important steps were already taken, and others are underway. This is why the Fatah Central Committee demanded that the government go to the Gaza Strip to receive all of the responsibilities and powers, including the crossings and ministries, he added.
He said, “An Egyptian delegation will be supervising the government takeover of the ministries and institutions. The delegation will oversee the transfer of power from Hamas to the government and ensure that the reconciliation terms are implemented on the ground.” He continued, “The Egyptians are closely following up on the reconciliation process.”
Shtayyeh added, “After the government takes over the management of the Gaza Strip affairs, a Fatah-Hamas dialogue will be held in Cairo to discuss the rest of the matters related to the reconciliation, in accordance with the 2011 Cairo Agreement. If it succeeds, this dialogue will be followed by a meeting, led by Abbas, that will bring together all of the Palestinian factions in Cairo. This is in order to launch a comprehensive national dialogue to agree to hold a PNC session in the presence of Hamas and the [Palestinian] Islamic Jihad, electing new PNC members and a new executive committee, and to adopt a new Palestinian political program.”
Given the previously failed understandings, Palestinians are not optimistic, particularly since the government will be facing major security, economic and administrative challenges in the Gaza Strip.
Jamal Muhaisen, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, told reporters Sept. 18, “The major obstacles to the reconciliation consist of establishing security in the Gaza Strip, under the Palestinian Authority law, and resolving the employees’ dossier.”
The most important issues that the government is required to resolve include government employees that Hamas appointed after taking over the Gaza Strip in 2007, in addition to the security problem. Al-Hayat newspaper quoted Azzam al-Ahmed, the Fatah official in charge of reconciliation, as saying, “There will be a transition period during which the current staff will temporarily carry on with the management of the government institutions’ affairs, in cooperation with the ministers. This is until the new and old staff are merged into one team.”
Shtayyeh explained, “Hamas raised important issues, such as the employees’ dossier, which will be resolved via an administrative committee set up by the government, based on the 2011 Cairo Agreement, to ensure that the new and old staff are merged into one team.”
To establish security in the Gaza Strip, the consensus government will require clear agreement among Palestinian factions about weapons. Mousa Abu Marzouk, a member of Hamas’ political bureau, told the press Sept. 22, "[The issue of Hamas'] weapons will not be raised during dialogue sessions and is a red line.”
However, Marzouk emphasized that “[Hamas] is ready to have the Palestinian leadership engaged in joint decision-making in war and peace in a positive way that serves the national interest.”
If Hamas creates obstacles for the National Consensus Government, it would undermine the reconciliation efforts. Majed al-Fatiani, the secretary of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, told Al-Monitor, “The government is going to Gaza to take over its tasks, in the absence of obstacles in its way, and will be handed over the ministries without interference from anyone. No excuses or justification obstructing its work will be accepted, so that it can operate freely.”
“The government will have authority and powers in Gaza. It will preserve the employees’ rights, and the files of those who were appointed and those who left will be examined. We are going there to end injustice done to all, and there is a work plan and vision that the government has for the Gaza Strip,” he added.
Although heading to the Gaza Strip is an important move by the government, the split continues to be a pending issue. The Palestinian leadership must conduct discussions and consultations until all of the problems are resolved and the talks lead to reconciliation and unity between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Abbas said Sept 23.