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Islamic Jihad comes under fire for allegedly undermining reconciliation

While Fatah's Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad lashed out at the Islamic Jihad and Iran, the movement denied the accusation of hindering the reconciliation.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — In late November, Azzam al-Ahmad, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee and the head of Fatah’s delegation at the inter-Palestinian talks, pointed an accusing finger at Iran and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, blaming them for undermining the reconciliation. The Palestinian factions — the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Palestinian People’s Party — rejected the accusations, which prompted a number of Fatah leaders to issue media statements Dec. 2 to ease the tension between Fatah and the Islamic Jihad sparked by Ahmad’s remarks.

In a television interview on An-Najah channel Nov. 30, Ahmad said, “Some of the Islamic Jihad leaders sought to undermine the Fatah-Hamas Palestinian reconciliation. … All factions coming from Gaza stressed during the talks in Cairo that there are obstacles to empowering the government, except for the Islamic Jihad delegation, because it views the reconciliation negatively.”

Islamic Jihad leader Ahmad al-Mudallal told Al-Monitor that the accusations are invalid and unfounded. He said that the reason behind Ahmad’s accusations is the Islamic Jihad’s explicit demand in the Nov. 22 Cairo talks that Fatah should pressure President Mahmoud Abbas to immediately lift the sanctions on the Gaza Strip.

He added that the factions — a total of nine Palestinian factions participating in the talks — expressed in a joint statement their rejection that the Rafah crossing be operated under the 2005 Agreement on Movement and Access, which allows Israel to monitor passengers on both sides of the crossing.

According to Mudallal, the Islamic Jihad factions informed the Fatah delegation in Cairo that the consensus government took over the ministries, institutions and crossings in the Gaza Strip, thus leaving no pretext for maintaining the sanctions on Gaza. The movement’s clear position angered Ahmad and the Fatah leaders who claim the government was unable to fully operate in Gaza, he added.

Mudallal noted that his movement has been one of the main Palestinian factions in favor of ending the split and achieving reconciliation. At the same time, the movement is working with other Palestinian factions to ease the burden on Gazans to promote the Palestinian national project, which he believes is being conspired against internationally — in reference to the peace plan that US President Donald Trump is working on.

In a Nov. 28 interview with Al-Arabiya TV, Ahmad said that Iran has been funding the Palestinian split from the beginning, and he pointed out that Iran had suspended its financial support to Hamas and set as a condition to resume it that the split persists.

Speaking to Al-Monitor, Hossein Sheikh al-Islam, an adviser to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, denied these accusations, saying they are unfounded. He also demanded that Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA) refrain from circulating such accusations.

Islam noted that from the beginning, Iran has been in favor of an internal Palestinian reconciliation and has never asked for a particular political position on the part of the Palestinian resistance factions, which Iran has been supporting in the face of Israel. He emphasized that Iran blessed all milestones in the previous internal Palestinian reconciliation.

The New Arab paper reported Nov. 24 that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman asked Abbas during his surprise visit to Saudi Arabia in early November to push Hamas away from Iran and Hezbollah and convince the Palestinian factions to engage in a long-term truce with Israel, in exchange for handling the financial dues generated from the Palestinian reconciliation. Yet Abbas told Prince Mohammed that he does not have the capacity to convince Hamas to do so, according to the newspaper.

Hassan Abdo, a political analyst at the Center for Palestine Studies and Research in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that the Islamic Jihad stance expressed in the Cairo talks angered Fatah leaders, especially Ahmad. The Islamic Jihad had said that the government in Gaza was handed over to Fatah, but Abbas has not lifted the sanctions on Gaza yet.

Abdo said the Islamic Jihad has always backed internal reconciliation. This stance was made clear when the movement did not respond militarily to the killing of 12 Palestinian fighters in a Gaza tunnel bombed by Israel on Oct. 30, to allow for the completion of the reconciliation deal. The Islamic Jihad also avoided confrontation in order for Israel not to have a pretext to escalate the situation in Gaza and undermine the reconciliation efforts.

Political analyst Ibrahim Madhoun agrees with Abdo. He told Al-Monitor that the Islamic Jihad still stands at equal distance from both sides of the split, even though it has demanded that Fatah lift sanctions on the Gaza Strip.

Madhoun revealed that the Islamic Jihad submitted to Hamas more than one memorandum to end the split and achieve reconciliation in September and October, which Hamas welcomed. Hamas also dissolved its administrative committee, which the PA used as a pretext to impose more sanctions on Gaza. But according to Madhoun, the Islamic Jihad was shocked and deceived by Fatah, which promised the factions that sanctions will be lifted on Gaza once Hamas dissolves the administrative committee.

Pessimism continues to prevail in the Palestinian street in light of the accusations over the reconciliation, which is gradually stalemating as the parties continue to postpone the implementation of what was agreed upon in Cairo Oct. 12. While Hamas accuses Fatah and the PA of delaying the implementation of the Cairo agreement, Fatah believes that Hamas has not totally empowered the government in Gaza.

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