Is there reason for hope with new Palestinian reconciliation bid?

Hamas has officially agreed to a new reconciliation push sponsored by Egypt, and Fatah is expected to soon do the same.

al-monitor A man releases fireworks during celebrations after rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal, Gaza City, Gaza, Oct. 12, 2017. Photo by REUTERS/Suhaib Salem.

Jul 25, 2018

RAMALLAH, West Bank — A Fatah delegation is expected in Cairo in the coming days to meet with officials from Egyptian intelligence to discuss Palestinian reconciliation. The delegation, led by Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad, who also heads the reconciliation file, is expected to present a formal response from Fatah about the proposals submitted to Hamas and Fatah to finally implement their on-again, off-again reconciliation.

Hamas announced in a July 19 press release that its political bureau head, Ismail Haniyeh, had relayed to Egyptian intelligence that the movement accepted the Egyptian bid to revive conciliation efforts. A Hamas delegation, headed by Khalil al-Hayya, had visited Cairo July 11 at the invitation of Egyptian intelligence to discuss the reconciliation as well as the situation in Gaza. The delegation returned to Gaza July 17 with a draft containing a number of proposals developed by the Egyptians to advance the stagnant process with Fatah.

On July 19, Turkey's Anadolu Agency published an alleged copy of the reconciliation bid, which contains 10 articles, split into four stages, to be implemented over the course of approximately two months. The proposal calls on the Palestinian Authority (PA) to lift all sanctions imposed on Gaza and provide services, such as electricity, to improve the humanitarian situation. The two parties are to activate the work of the national consensus government in Gaza, launch talks to form a national unity government, discuss security in Gaza and work to implement the 2011 Cairo agreement between Fatah and Hamas. The two movements have signed dozens of agreements since their conflict erupted, in 2007, but the 2011 document is considered the most essential document for all subsequent reconciliation efforts.

While Hamas has agreed to the Egyptian bid, Fatah has yet to issue a formal answer, and its responses have thus far been inconsistent. A Fatah source, who requested anonymity, told Al-Monitor that President Mahmoud Abbas has assigned Central Committee members Ahmad and Rawhi Fattouh to assess the new bid.

Fatah has agreed to the Egyptian proposals, the source said, but is yet to issue a final and formal answer. The Fatah delegation soon heading to Cairo will inform the Egyptians of some of their reservations, such as those over Hamas’ actual commitment to the new proposals, and thus seek guarantees.

Fatah's Azzam al-Ahmad told the Voice of Palestine on July 21 that what the Egyptians had presented were merely suggestions, a copy of which he had received on July 15 during a visit to Cairo.

“There is no such thing as a final Egyptian paper,” Ahmad said. “What we have are suggestions for mechanisms to implement the reconciliation.”

Ahmad stressed, “What has been circulated in the media about those suggestions is untrue. Hamas has been staging all of that to obstruct Egypt in the hopes of hindering its proposals before they come to light and to incite the public against Fatah.”

The Egyptian bid has generated optimism among Palestinians, who are hoping that the Fatah-Hamas dispute will finally end. Numerous Cairo-sponsored agreements between Fatah and Hamas have crumbled, the most recent having been agreed to on Oct. 12, 2017, in Cairo. That agreement established an implementation mechanism for the previous reconciliation agreements, including for the PA's operating in Gaza and the management of border crossings, but their effort subsequently failed.

Jamil Mezher, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s (PFLP) political bureau, told Al-Monitor, “The fact that Egypt has proposed an ongoing reconciliation process split into four stages, with each stage having a specific timetable, is a cause for optimism. If the Egyptian bid is implemented, it will be a serious breakthrough with regard to the conflict toward reaching a reconciliation.”

Mezher added, “Hamas disclosed the full details of the Egyptian bid to the PFLP. They informed us of their decision to agree.”

On the other hand, Mustafa al-Wassaf, a political reporter and analyst close to Hamas, told Al-Monitor, “The Egyptian bid contains specified timetables for implementation. This is one of the most notable aspects to the bid, and that is beside the fact that the articles of the bid are clear and direct and can’t be re-interpreted by either side.”

Wassaf stressed that reconciliation is crucial to saving the Palestinian cause in light of the political plans he says are being developed to stifle it, such as the so-called Deal of the Century that US President Donald Trump has promised to deliver.

The current circumstances on the Palestinian landscape and possible future events should be sufficiently compelling for Fatah and Hamas to overcome their differences and reconcile. Among them are the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza, the tensions on Gaza's borders and their ominous potential for war with Israel, the peace process between the PLO and Israel reaching one dead end after another and the US-orchestrated Deal of the Century to resolve the Palestinian issue. Eleven years on, could hope be in sight?

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