CAIRO — For the first time since 2006, Palestinian movements Hamas and Fatah agreed to hold general elections within six months. The announcement came Sept. 24 at the conclusion of talks that took place between the two parties in Istanbul, upon Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ call on his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to sponsor the Palestinian reconciliation.
The agreement was met with official Egyptian silence, knowing that Cairo has been the one sponsoring and leading Palestinian reconciliation efforts for years. Egyptian media outlets close to the authorities condemned the agreement, accusing Hamas of implementing Turley’s plan to control the West Bank through its sponsorship of the Palestinian reconciliation.
Palestinian and Egyptian politicians and experts who spoke to Al-Monitor on this matter said the agreement points to Turkey’s plan to pull the rug out from underneath Cairo when it comes to the Palestinian reconciliation file. It also shows, according to these sources, the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) growing discontent over Egypt’s support for the recent normalization deals reached between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain.
Hussam al-Dajani, a political analyst and professor of political science at al-Ummah University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that by resorting to Ankara in the reconciliation file, the Palestinian parties sought to send a protest message to Egypt over its welcoming of the normalization deals.
Another reason Abbas turned to Erdogan is the Arab League’s rejection of a Palestinian draft statement to condemn the UAE-Israel normalization deal and, before that, its rejection of a Palestinian demand to hold an emergency meeting, Dajani said, adding that this has pushed Palestine to step down from the rotating presidency of the Arab League.
Dajani believes that Abbas’ relations with the Qatari-Turkish axis and Hamas’ strong ties with the same axis will lead to a positive breakthrough in the Palestinian file. He said Hamas has assured Abbas that it will not control the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and will accept him as chairman of the PLO in exchange for an agreement between the two parties to elect a consensual president in case presidential elections are held, in order to weaken the chances of dismissed Fatah leader and Abbas’ rival Mohammed Dahlan, who is backed by the United States and the UAE.
Dajani added, “Egypt, with a mandate from the Arab League, represents the exclusive sponsor of the Palestinian reconciliation file, and taking away this file would constitute a major political loss for Egypt.”
Hassan Nafea, a political science professor at Cairo University, agreed with Dajani. He told Al-Monitor, “Turkey’s [new] role in the Palestinian reconciliation reflects the Palestinian discontent over Egypt’s ambiguous policies toward the Palestinian cause. Theoretically, [Egypt] expresses its support for the Palestinian cause, while in reality it is pushing for a settlement and is supporting the [recent] push toward Arab normalization with Israel.”
Nafea said that Turkey has taken advantage of its relations with Hamas and of Egypt’s positions to pull the rug of the reconciliation file out from under Cairo. He added, “Egypt understands the Palestinian discontent and will not criticize the agreement [on elections] publicly unless Turkey uses the Palestinian card in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood, which constitutes the main point of dispute and tension between Ankara and Cairo.”
Egypt has been leading the reconciliation efforts between Palestinian factions since October 2017 and has hosted representatives of Hamas and Fatah around one table in Cairo on several occasions, following the Palestinian split in 2007 after Hamas took military control of the Gaza Strip and expelled Hamas from the enclave. But these Egyptian efforts have stalled in recent years due to major disputes between the two Palestinian movements.
Tarek Fahmy, a political science professor at Cairo University who is well informed on the Palestinian reconciliation file, told Al-Monitor, “Cairo does not have reservations on any [action] that serves the Palestinian cause, including the agreement reached in Istanbul.”
Although Turkey seeks to confront Egypt in light of the developments in Libya and other regional issues, and Palestinians want to pressure Egypt, Fahmy downplayed Turkey’s ability to play Egypt’s role and said Palestinians may not be ready to do without Cairo.
He added, “Turkey has no past accumulative experience in the Palestinian cause like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Nations, or even Qatar have. In addition, Turkey’s role in the latest talks was limited to hosting the delegations, but it did not offer any vision to solve the problem.”
Fahmy continued, “Egypt is the epicenter of the Palestinian file and will remain the main reference for any inter-Palestinian negotiations.”
Meanwhile, Barakat al-Fara, Palestine’s former ambassador to Cairo, said the Turkish-sponsored talks are similar to previous talks aimed to bring the visions of the PA and Hamas closer and hosted by Russia, Turkey, Senegal, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.
He told Al-Monitor the reports on tensions between the PA and Egypt are nothing but “baseless speculation,” stressing that “our relations with Egypt are strong and historical, and it has been supporting us since the emergence of the Palestinian cause.”
Fara added, “Even Hamas’ relations with Cairo were not affected despite its suspicious ties with Qatar, Iran and Turkey. This is simply because no one can fill in for Egypt’s role in the Palestinian cause.”
Shortly after the announcement of the agreement in Istanbul, Abbas sent the delegation tasked with negotiating with Hamas to Cairo on Sept. 27 for talks with Egyptian leaders to fill them in on what happened in Istanbul. Secretary-General of Fatah’s Central Committee Jibril Rajoub and member of the movement’s Central Committee Rawhy Ftouh met in Cairo with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.
In this context, Dajani said the reconciliation talks have always witnessed the intervention of various countries, such as Senegal, Yemen, Qatar, and even Russia and Saudi Arabia. But each time, the Palestinian leadership would always inform Egypt of the minor details, he added.
He added, “This visit confirms that the Palestinian tendency [toward Egypt] has not changed,” adding that a Hamas delegation will also visit Cairo later this week to discuss the reconciliation file.
“It is in no one’s interest in Palestine to circumvent Egypt, as it is the lung of the Gaza Strip and Hamas, and at the same time Cairo is able to absorb the Palestinians in the aftermath of the UAE and Bahrain deals with Israel and settle the reconciliation file from its land,” Dajani concluded.