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Hamas-Fatah standoff vexes Egypt as mediator

Frustrated by the unwillingness of Hamas and Fatah to compromise, Egypt may be shifting its priority to first brokering a truce between Israel and Hamas.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a summit between Arab league and European Union member states, in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany - RC163E99B150

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — There has been speculation that Egypt has given up on mediating a reconciliation between rival Palestinian factions Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Fatah in the West Bank, but so far Egypt hasn't said it will throw in the towel.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ziyad al-Nakhaleh told Al-Mayadeen May 7, “Egypt will no longer oversee the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.” Nakhaleh arrived in Cairo May 3 upon invitation from Egypt to meet with intelligence officials to discuss the Palestinian political situation.

Nakhaleh added in the interview that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is determined “to strip the resistance of its weapons and consider the Palestinian resistance movements militias. Abbas said he will not return to Gaza as long as there are weapons,” a situation Abbas doesn't expect to happen, Nakhaleh said.

A high-ranking source in the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate, which is trying to mediate a Palestinian reconciliation, told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity, “The reconciliation has reached a dead end, but Egypt has not made a decision to end its mediation.” The source added, “Still, Egypt is upset that its previous efforts on the reconciliation issue have failed. To add insult to injury, Fatah took a sudden and unilateral step to form a new government without a national consensus.”

A main sticking point is the conflicting positions of Fatah and Hamas regarding ways to end the Israeli occupation. "Abbas insists on a legal and diplomatic track as a way to push the international community to pressure Israel to end its occupation, and he rejects armed resistance. Hamas, for its part, insists on armed resistance," the source said.

Egypt intervened and proposed forming a factional commission reporting to the Palestine Liberation Organization to limit and control weapons.

The source noted, “The proposition [to form this commission] would have succeeded if it weren’t for additional spokes in the wheels, mainly Abbas refusing to integrate Hamas employees in Gaza within the PA framework and disburse their salaries. Additionally, Hamas didn't hand over the Gaza rule completely to the consensus government that Hamas and Fatah agreed to form in 2014. Hamas continued to govern some official institutions, like the security apparatus.”

Hamas spokesman Abdullatif al-Kanou blamed Fatah and its leader for the impasse. He told Al-Monitor, “Abbas is obstructing the reconciliation, and Egypt is well aware of that.” A major obstacle facing the reconciliation is “Fatah’s lack of faith in the national partnership rule, not just with Hamas but with all factions," he said. "Abbas is monopolizing Palestinian decision-making.” He continued, “When Fatah starts believing in partnership, the Palestinian division will no longer have a place.”

Meanwhile, he said, the dead end the reconciliation has reached “can't harm Egypt-Hamas relations, as they are ongoing and continue to develop," adding, "Hamas and Egypt are in contact regarding several issues, mainly expanding trade and promoting border security."

Abdullah Abdullah, a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, told Al-Monitor, “Although the reconciliation is frozen, I don’t think Egypt has given up its sponsorship of the issue.”

He added, “We reached a good reconciliation agreement in Cairo on Oct. 12, 2017, stating that Hamas would hand over control of Gaza to the consensus government. But we were shocked when an explosion targeted the convoy of then-Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah when he entered Gaza on March 13, 2018. This act revealed Hamas’ rejection of the reconciliation.”

Hamas is more interested in reaching a truce with Israel than reconciling with Fatah, according to Abdullah. Through a truce, Hamas wants to tighten its grip on the Gaza Strip, while Israel wants to cement the Palestinian rift and ensure that the PA will not return to Gaza, he added.

Iyad al-Qara, a political analyst and journalist for the Hamas-affiliated Felesteen newspaper, told Al-Monitor, “Nakhaleh’s claims that Egypt will stop overseeing the reconciliation indicate Egypt’s inability to pressure Abbas to commit to the reconciliation.” He added, “Since Hamdallah’s convoy was targeted in March 2018 and Hamas accused PA intelligence of plotting the operation to foil the reconciliation, no progress has been achieved at this level. Egypt felt there was no more hope.”

Qara said Egypt has become convinced that Abbas’ leadership of the PA is complicating the reconciliation. “Abbas is not cooperating in his stances with the Egyptian brokerage on several issues, mainly the truce between Gaza and Israel," Qara said.

Political analyst Ahmed al-Shiqaqi, a reporter at the PIJ-affiliated al-Istiqlal newspaper, told Al-Monitor, “Egypt is frustrated because of the reconciliation deadlock. Active Palestinian parties are now convinced the reconciliation is a distant prospect after Abbas took unilateral steps — mainly disbanding the Palestinian Legislative Council and forming a new government” without the participation of Hamas and the PIJ.

Shiqaqi expects Egypt’s efforts for reconciliation to continue if it first succeeds in brokering a truce between Gaza and Israel. He added, “Egypt’s vision now is to seek truce first then reconciliation.”

Qara agrees Egypt is now prioritizing a real truce between Gaza and Israel because it believes this issue is more pressing. “Without a truce, the region will continue to witness battles between Israel and Gaza," he said.

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