GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Egypt is trying to break the deadlock over the Fatah and Hamas reconciliation. Daoud Shihab, the spokesman for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, told Felesteen newspaper Nov. 22 that during a Nov. 14 meeting in Cairo with a senior Islamic Jihad delegation headed by the movement’s Secretary-General Ramadan Abdullah Shalah, Egypt expressed its readiness to host a Palestinian national comprehensive dialogue to discuss the possibility of achieving reconciliation based on the initiative put forward by Shalah Oct. 21. According to Shihab, Egypt has yet to set the date of the dialogue.
The Egyptian desire to revive Palestinian reconciliation raised important questions on the Palestinian street. Chief among these are the following: Why is Egypt insisting on its sponsorship of the reconciliation? Following the failure of all previous agreements, most recently the Beach Refugee Camp Agreement in April 2014, why is a new dialogue being considered between Fatah and Hamas? Does Egypt really have the key to solving the reconciliation obstacles?
It should be noted that Qatar previously tried to revive the reconciliation process by hosting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas Oct. 28 and having him meet with the head of Hamas’ political bureau, Khaled Meshaal, and his deputy, Ismail Haniyeh, to start a new dialogue about reconciliation. However, Mousa Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official, said in an interview with Al-Araby Al-Jadeed newspaper Nov. 16 that this dialogue, which only lasted for one day, stopped due to Abbas’ insistence on certain conditions.
Abu Marzouk said, “There are four points that Abu Mazen [Abbas] wants to achieve through reconciliation: First, a national unity government that abides by the PLO, and this was not agreed upon by Hamas and Fatah at any step of the way and is, in fact, the essence of the problem. Second, Abbas refuses to convene the Palestinian Legislative Council and wants immediate legislative and presidential elections to be held. Third, he did not mention elections at the Palestinian National Council level, and this is contrary to what we agreed upon under the Beach Refugee Camp Agreement in April 2014. Fourth, Abbas did not mention the PLO’s Temporary Leadership Framework. Thus, all efforts to achieve reconciliation have stopped.”
He added, “There is no longer room for any meeting unless Fatah changes its position and returns to discussing what was previously agreed upon.”
Hamas spokesman Hazem Qasem stressed that his movement is completely in line with Egypt’s desire of having the Palestinians address their issues and achieve reconciliation, but he told Al-Monitor, “No new meeting should take the form of bilateral dialogues between Hamas and Fatah, and all the Palestinian factions should take part in such meetings.”
Qasem added, “Bilateral dialogues are no longer viable because Fatah always ends up dictating new conditions that do not go in line with the previous reconciliation agreements. Therefore, we want new meetings to be held with the participation of all of the Palestinian factions so that these can witness the achieved results and see for themselves which party is seeking to sabotage the reconciliation.”
He explained that in order for any future dialogue to succeed, it must be based on important foundations and principles, including the commitment of all parties to implement the reconciliation agreement and refrain from imposing on any party any additional conditions that do not go in line with this agreement.
For his part, Amin Maqboul, the secretary-general of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, stressed that his movement welcomes the return of the Egyptian efforts to end the Palestinian division. He told Al-Monitor, “We hope that this time around there will be a clear vision of reconciliation. We must not start a dialogue for the sake of dialogues. We have to implement what has been previously agreed upon.”
It should be noted that Hamas and Fatah concluded several agreements to put an end to the Palestinian division. Chief among these are the Cairo Agreement in 2011, the Doha Agreement in 2012 and the Beach Refugee Camp Agreement in 2014. However, major differences prevented the implementation of these agreements. These include Hamas not handing over the Gaza crossings management to the Palestinian Authority (PA), the consensus government refusing to pay the salaries of Gaza employees and Abbas failing to set a date for the establishment of a Temporary Leadership Framework for the PLO.
Maqboul noted that Egypt’s deteriorating role over the past months as far as reconciliation is concerned was the result of the deteriorating relations between Egypt and Hamas, given the latter’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. Add to this Hamas’ procrastination in implementing the reconciliation agreement, especially in relation to handing over the Gaza crossings to the PA and enabling the consensus government to rule over the Gaza Strip.
“Egypt is the Arab country most worthy of sponsoring the Palestinian reconciliation given its historical and geographical links to the Palestinian territories. Therefore, we are committed to Egypt’s sponsorship of this reconciliation,” Maqboul said.
Writer and political analyst Mustafa Sawaf told Al-Monitor that Egypt’s efforts to revive reconciliation “come in the context of attempts to restore the Egyptian regional and international role, which cannot be achieved without the Palestinian card.”
“The Palestinian cause needs an international solution. Therefore, Egypt is trying to have a role in this solution by taking over the issue of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah and proving that it is a heavyweight state in the world. This is why it is showing its willingness to bring together the Palestinian parties to carry out this reconciliation,” Sawaf said.
He said that there should be no competition between Egypt and Qatar over the acquisition of this role. “I do not think that Qatar is seeking to acquire the Egyptian role as far as reconciliation is concerned. Qatar’s role is to help overcome the obstacles, but in order for Egypt to succeed in achieving reconciliation, it should be standing at the same distance from all parties.”
Political analyst Adel Samara said that to ensure the success of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah, Egypt must be able to solve all the problems related to reconciliation, including the financial problems, such as Gaza’s salaries problem. However, he said that Egypt would not be able to overcome all of these problems.
“This is why Qatar could play an important role of assistance, especially in providing solutions to the financial problems. I think that as long as this problem remains unresolved, Hamas would keep ruling Gaza and would not hand over the crossings to the PA.”
He pointed out that Qatar is able to solve this problem, especially considering that it took the initiative to pay the Gaza employees’ salaries for the month of July in the framework of its economic and development projects in Gaza.
Yet Samara said that Egypt is greatly interested in having a role in the Palestinian issue, especially as far as the Gaza Strip is concerned. “This has been made clear with Egypt’s opening up to Gaza through invitations extended to Gaza to visit the Egyptian territory and participate, for example, in the Ain Sokhna 2 Conference, which was held in Egypt Nov. 7-9 and which called for the need to strengthen and develop relations between Egypt and Gaza.”
Palestinians hope that Egypt’s openness to Gaza would reap serious and real steps that would put an end to the Palestinian division and arrange the Palestinian internal problems so that they can devote themselves to facing the ongoing Israeli occupation.