GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The visit paid by the Ramallah-based ministers of the Palestinian Authority (PA), including Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, to Gaza on Oct. 2 gave Gaza residents hope that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would also pay Gaza a visit amid media reports that he would take such a step once the PA is in full control there. Abbas was last in Gaza in May 2007, shortly before Hamas seized full control of the enclave in June 2007.
Palestinians in the media have been increasingly calling on Abbas to travel to Gaza and lift the sanctions that he imposed in early April to pressure Hamas into relinquishing control over the territory. On Oct. 3, Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ political bureau chief, called on Abbas to visit to formally put an end to the Palestinian division. On Oct. 12, senior Fatah leader Zakaria al-Agha said such a visit is coming soon. Agha, who is based in Gaza, told Agence France-Presse that Abbas “will be in Gaza within less than a month,” but did not provide further details.
Ahmad al-Majdalani, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization's Executive Committee and a close associate of Abbas, told Al-Monitor that Abbas would certainly visit Gaza to exercise his duties as president of the Palestinian people, especially in view of the positive climate that followed the PA ministers' visit. Majdalani said that Abbas had held a meeting of Fatah’s Central Committee on Oct. 5 to assess a trip to Gaza, which the president praised, and to prepare for a Fatah-Hamas meeting scheduled for Oct. 10 in Cairo.
A Hamas delegation led by Saleh al-Arouri, Haniyeh's deputy, and a Fatah delegation led by Azzam al-Ahmad indeed met at the headquarters of Egyptian intelligence to discuss details of a reconciliation agreement and how the consensus government would work in Gaza. The delegations also touched on the issue of Gaza residents hired as government workers by Hamas in 2007 and about the 2011 Cairo reconciliation agreement being the basis of ongoing and future discussions. The sides are expected to continue meeting through Oct. 12. No information has been released on the details of the talks.
Haniyeh had called Abbas on Oct. 1 to brief him on the Palestinian reconciliation arrangements and to assure him that Hamas would not put obstacles in the way of a government handover. After its weekly meeting in Ramallah on Oct. 10, the PA stressed its readiness to resume administration of Gaza should the Hamas and Fatah delegations in Cairo reach an agreement in the coming days.
Majdalani said that although he understood calls for an Abbas visit, he cautioned in favor of patience and a step-by-step approach in terms of any reconciliation plans. He noted that the Palestinian division has lasted for 10 years, so Abbas is going to need some time to deal with the effects and consequences of it.
Meanwhile, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem told Al-Monitor, “We don’t mind anyone entering or leaving Gaza. Hamas welcomes any step aimed at ending division, including Abbas’ intention to visit Gaza, as reported in the media.”
Naji Shurrab, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that Abbas wants his visit to Gaza to be the culmination of the Palestinian reconciliation process and to take place once the PA has resumed its duties. He added that visiting Gaza would be a fitting conclusion to Abbas' political life.
Shurrab stressed that at the domestic level, the visit would symbolize Palestinian reconciliation and PA control over Gaza. At the foreign level, he said, the visit would convey the message regionally and internationally that Abbas is the legitimate leader of all the Palestinian people. This, he said, would deal a blow to the argument by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that Abbas barely controls half of the Palestinian people, destroying the pretext he uses to avoid participating in a political settlement process led by the United States.
Shurrab claims that an Abbas visit has become a political dream for the Palestinians in Gaza suffering from the siege, wars with Israel and a difficult economic situation. Palestinian citizens believe that Abbas' visit may solve many of the crises plaguing Gaza.
Talal Awkal, political analyst and contributor to the newspaper Al-Ayyam, told Al-Monitor that it could take some time for an Abbas visit to materialize given the situation in Gaza and Hamas’ current control of the security services there. Awkal said a visit would be a major development as far as the Palestinian cause is concerned, with the end of internal division.
Meanwhile, Palestinians in Gaza will be impatiently awaiting Abbas and his lifting of sanctions to relieve the suffering that many of them have been enduring.