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Israel, Hamas & The PA: Following Cease-fire Deal, Palestinian Reconciliation Tops Agenda
Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (R) and Political Chief of Hamas Ismail Haniyeh (L) shake hands during a meeting in Gaza City on October 02, 2017. (Photo by Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Israel, Hamas & The PA: Following Cease-fire Deal, Palestinian Reconciliation Tops Agenda

As Hamas claims “victory” in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority is focused on forging national unity

The cease-fire agreed to between Israel and Hamas—the armed Islamist group that rules that Gaza Strip—is shrouded in uncertainty, as Egyptian- and Qatari-mediated negotiations appear to have hit a stand-still. Concurrently, there is hope in Ramallah that the present circumstances might lead to a breakthrough in ending the decade long intra-Palestinian divide between the West Bank and Gaza.

On the first issue, tensions exploded last week after Israeli special forces were uncovered while conducting a covert operation some three kilometers deep into Gaza in Khan Younis. According to Hamas deputy chief in Gaza Khalil al-Hayya, the soldiers were attempting to install spyware to enable the army to eavesdrop as well as locate military infrastructure such as cross-border attack tunnels.

The troops are believed to have entered the territory disguised and in an unmarked vehicle, but were subsequently identified leading to a firefight that killed one officer and a top Hamas commander along with six other members of the organization. The following day, Hamas responded by firing some 500 projectiles into Israel, pushing the sides to the brink of war.

An eleventh-hour cease-fire was subsequently agreed to, the exact details of which remain undisclosed. The decision was criticized by many in Israel and led to the resignation of defense minister Avigdor Liberman. The Israeli army has not divulged specifics pertaining to the botched operation.

In the interim, there appears to be no progress in formalizing the cease-fire agreement, with al-Hayya revealing that the Israeli government is “hindering” efforts to reach a prisoner-swap deal. “Instead, Israel sells illusions to the families of the abducted soldiers,” he said in reference to the remains of two Israeli fighters killed during the 2014 conflict that are being held by Hamas.

“For years all Israel does is respond after Hamas initiates actions,” Brig. Gen. Lior Akerman, a former division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), related to The Media Line. “When they fire, we fire. When they decide to stop, we stop. I think that we lost our deterrence against Hamas. It is a fundamentalist terror organization that will never give up.”

On the second point, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has renewed his call for reconciliation with Hamas based on an accord signed last year in Cairo. While Egyptian officials continue their efforts to bridge the gaps, there remain major sticking points, foremost Hamas’ unwillingness to disarm. In the interim, Abbas is refusing to assume administrative control over Gaza as well as to lift sanctions he imposed on the enclave in order to pressure Hamas to abide by his demands.

“The Israeli aggression confirmed the importance of the unification of the Palestinian ranks,” Ziad abu Ziad, a spokesperson for Abbas’ Fatah faction, stressed to The Media Line. “We must end the division in order to protect our people from Israel.”

Ali Abd al-Hai Ali, an Egyptian political analyst, does not believe that the latest escalation in Gaza will lead to Palestinian unity. “The two sides have very different methods: Hamas takes a ‘resistance’ approach, while Fatah pursues ‘normalization’ with Israel. There is no way to reconcile this, and that is why all past attempts have failed.”

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