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Gaza quiet after Palestinian reconciliation deal

The latest reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah was not met with fanfare in the Gaza Strip, as locals remain skeptical on whether the deal will be implemented.
Senior Fatah official Azzam Al-Ahmed (L) speaks with head of the Hamas government Ismail Haniyeh as they announce a reconciliation agreement during a news conference in Gaza City April 23, 2014. The Gaza-based Islamist group Hamas and President Mahmoud Abbas's Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) agreed on Wednesday to implement a unity pact, both sides announced in a joint news conference.REUTERS/Suhaib Salem (GAZA - Tags: POLITICS) - RTR3MC0Q

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of Gaza’s government, declared the end of the seven-year Palestinian split between Fatah and Hamas and agreed to form a unity government in five weeks to prepare for elections at the end of 2014.

Hamas met with a PLO delegation headed by Azzam al-Ahmad over two days this week, during which the two sides held scattered meetings to reach an agreement on how to implement the terms of previous agreements made in Cairo and Doha.

At the start of the press conference held on April 23 at his home, Haniyeh said, “It is a great honor to announce, from this modest house in the Al-Shati refugee camp, the end of the split and to witness this historic time in the life of the Palestinian people.”

During the press conference, which was attended by Al-Monitor, Haniyeh said that the delegations acted with high national responsibility during the dialogue, which happened with the blessing of both President Mahmoud Abbas and the head of Hamas’ political bureau Khaled Meshaal.

The meetings came after peace talks with Israel stumbled, with Israel announcing it is halting the talks in response to the reconciliation. Ahmad said at the press conference, “Six meetings were held in the framework of negotiations with Israel, most recently yesterday, in an attempt to save [the negotiations]. But Israel is flouting the negotiations.”

Haniyeh read out the statement that was signed by the two sides, saying, “We emphasize our commitment to the Cairo Agreement, the subsequent understandings and the Doha Declaration, and we consider them the reference upon implementation. [We have agreed that] the president will start the consultations to form and announce a government of national consensus within five weeks.”

He also stressed that the coinciding legislative, presidential and National Council elections — which the president is authorized to choose dates for — will be held six months after the formation of the government, and that a committee to activate and develop the PLO will be formed, pointing out also the need to activate the Legislative Council, and the committees of social reconciliation and freedoms.

Al-Monitor learned from informed sources in Ramallah that this agreement, which happened in less than 48 hours, came after informal meetings in Cairo between PLO members and Hamas political bureau member Mousa Abu Marzouk. The same sources said that Ahmad informed Haniyeh that the delegation will not come to Gaza unless Hamas is ready for reconciliation and ready to sign an agreement to form a government.

The sources added that diplomatic delegations left Ramallah for a European country a few days before the agreement “to put pressure on the formation of a national unity government and an international protection front for the decision to end the split.”

In contrast to the applause that rose in the conference room attached to Haniyeh’s home, Gaza’s streets were quiet. Unlike with previous agreements, no celebratory atmosphere erupted in the Gaza Strip.

Activist Samah Ahmed, who held a Palestinian flag and went to Jundi Square with others, told Al-Monitor, “We expected big celebrations, but we only found ourselves there. People have lost confidence in these agreements because they previously failed.”

It seems that the five weeks set by the participants to form a government raises a lot of concerns that the disputes may escalate. “There is concern that, during the long period given to form a government, a setback will happen or there will be no agreement on the details. Also, leaving the elections to consultation is worrying. They have been consulting for seven years,” political writer Akram Atallah told Al-Monitor.

Popular pressure

Popular pressure followed the two-day meetings. Demonstrations were organized in front of the delegations’ residence in the Movenpick Hotel in the northern Gaza Strip and next to Haniyeh’s home, where the meetings were held.

The pressure started with a small demonstration on April 22 to welcome the delegation after it passed through the Erez-Beit Hanoun crossing. The demonstrators chanted, “The people want the division to end.” Al-Monitor spoke with Rashad Abu Mudallala, one of those who called for demonstrations via Facebook. “We decided to demonstrate in the street until the two delegations produce a reconciliation. The situation in Gaza and the West Bank has become intolerable, with freedom violations, arrests and economic decline,” he said

Next to him stood activist Nawal Zaqqout carrying a banner reading “We want freedom … we want a homeland … we want political partnership.”

The crowd demonstrated in front of Haniyeh’s home until the delegation returned to its residence in the Movenpick Hotel, where they started an open-ended sit-in. But at 1 a.m. April 24, security men from Gaza’s government asked the crowd to leave to preserve the security of the delegations, activist Fadi al-Sheikh Yussuf told Al-Monitor.

On the afternoon of April 24, the number of demonstrators in front of Haniyeh’s house turned into hundreds after the martyrs’ families, those who have not received their salaries and the unemployed joined.

Fathi al-Najjar, a participant in the rally, told Al-Monitor, “For seven years, my salary has stopped coming from the government in Ramallah because of malicious reports. I have three girls with disabilities who need special attention. I hope that the reconciliation succeeds so that I can get my salary back and security prevails. In seven years, I have turned from a resister to a beggar.”

On the implementation of the agreement, Ramallah government spokesman Ihab Bseiso told Al-Monitor, “The next government will have a specific task: arrange for the elections,” explaining that the five-week deadline to form a government has been set by Palestinian law, and that the countdown started as soon as the agreement was signed.

Bseiso said it is likely “the government will not be political, but technocratic,” explaining that the resignation of both governments will be announced at the end of the consultation on a consensus government, and not before, so that there will not be a political and administrative vacuum.

“It is likely to be a government of technocrats so its credibility isn't challenged when the elections come,” he added, stressing that this government must be presented to the Palestinian Legislative Council as soon as it is formed. He pointed out the importance that the Legislative Council start convening in the context of promoting the reconciliation.

Atallah said what is important is that the agreement gets implemented. He said that some “landmines” have not been defused and that other issues — such as the security file, which was not discussed in detail — have not been settled. He also said there is the issue of the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing in the Gaza Strip. He added, “The agreement avoided raising these sensitive issues. They agreed on what was already agreed upon, and they didn’t discuss what they couldn’t agree on. It was a minimal agreement.”

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