Palestinian Reconciliation Sputters
Agreed-upon deadline for Gaza hand-over extended 10 days
The long-awaited reconciliation between Palestinian Fatah and Hamas factions has hit widely expected bumps in the road requiring the Egyptian brokers to extend by ten days the agreed-upon deadline for Hamas to hand over control of the Gaza Strip to Fatah.
Formal notice of the delay was provided by the deputy secretary of Fatah Revolutionary Council, Fayez Abu Eita, after a meeting of the factions in the Gaza Strip. “In order to achieve the goal of our people to achieve the reconciliation and end the division, the two movements request [a delay in] the handing over of the government tasks in Gaza, as agreed in the Cairo agreement, until the 10th of December.”
Political analyst Abdl Al-Satar Qasem sees the delay as more than a logistical postponement. Rather, he told The Media Line that “based upon the circumstances, Palestine is not ready for a reconciliation. The Palestinian political positions are so different: Fatah recognizes Israel and Hamas is fighting Israel.” He admonished the Palestinian people not to allow the “confusing situation” to kill the deal. “Palestinians must move, and shouldn’t be quiet about what we see as trivialities.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas placed a gag order on comments relating to the issue widely believed to be the undoing of the agreement: Hamas’s refusal to hand its weapons over to the national government of reconciliation.
Lest the Hamas position be unclear, one of its senior officials, Khalel Al-Haya, insisted at a Monday news conference following the latest talks in Cairo that] retaining “the resistance weapon” [read: armed fighters] is nonnegotiable” and all Palestinians should stop asking about it.
Admittedly, the idea of Hamas retaining its arms and its commitment to fighting Israel is not objectionable to all Palestinians, even those who are not Hamas loyalists. One long-time Fatah official, commissioner for international relations Nabil Sha’ath, told The Media Line that the main idea is not to “kill” the “Palestinian resistance,” [read: Hamas fighting force] but to recruit it “to defend the Palestinian people’s cause and rights.” He said, “It’s not like we are going to disarm Hamas and give the weapons to Israel, the idea is to have one weapon under one Palestinian government. We refuse to use that weapon against Palestinians like what happened in 2006 [referring to the internecine warfare between Fatah and Hamas.]”
According to Sha’ath, although disarming Hamas remains a difficult problem, “Palestinians shouldn’t give Israel the chance to take advantage of it.”
With the international community showing support for the reconciliation and insisting that Hamas recognize Israel’s right to exist, Sha’ath presaged what most believe will be the operative fiction: a labored explanation that although Hamas does not recognize Israel nor relinquish its commitment to the destroy it, since “we can’t force these conditions on Hamas as a political party, we apply it to the government,” the logic being that, “If Hamas is going to be part of that government, they will have to approve these conditions like the Palestinian Liberation Organization [did under Arafat].” Sha’ath accused Israel of having a majority of political parties that “don’t recognize Palestine’s right to exist,” so “why should we force it on Hamas?”
Azzam Al-Ahmad, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee who is responsible for advancing Fatah’s reconciliation with Hamas, criticized Iran of funding Hamas under the condition that it maintains the differences with Fatah.
Following last week’s Arab foreign ministers meeting in Cairo that declared the Lebanon-based, Iranian-backed Islamist group Hizbullah a “terrorist organization,” Hamas quickly rose to the defense of its Lebanese allies, with deputy leader Musa Abu Marzouk objecting to the designation and reiterating Hamas’ refusal to classify Hizbullah as terrorists.
The Saudis are deeply concerned about the impact of the incorporation of Hamas members into the Palestinian government and the warming of Hamas ties to Iran. Earlier this month, Hamas deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri held a high-profile meeting with Hizbullah chief Hassan Nasrallah in Beirut just days after a high-ranking Hamas delegation, led by al-Arouri, visited Tehran and met with senior Iranian officials.
When reached by The Media Line, Fatah spokesperson Osama Al-Kawasmi refused to comment on what he termed, “a sensitive issue.”
Hamas chief Ismail Haniyyeh confirmed last week in a speech that the organization will not disarm at any price. Haniyyeh’s statement came right after the tunnel attack last month in which the Israel Defense Forces killed ten Islamic Jihad members, including two senior military leaders, along with two Hamas fighters.
The Gaza Strip remains full of armed groups affiliated with Hamas and other Palestinian factions, including the Iranian-sponsored Islamic Jihad, and their disarmament was not specifically addressed in the unity talks in Cairo. Instead, both Fatah and Hamas simply agreed to engage in dialogue and make joint decisions about pursuing peace or war. In response, the government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made clear that Jerusalem will not engage with any Palestinian entity that includes Hamas unless the group disarms, accepts previous deals signed with Israel and recognizes the “Jewish state’s right to exist.”
To the chagrin of many, Abbas has not yet fulfilled his pledge to remove restrictions he placed on Gaza this summer, which includes reducing the salaries of Hamas government employees, halting the transfer of funds to specific ministries, and withholding the fuel needed to operate Gaza’s power plant.
A former member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a rival group to both Fatah and Hamas, explained to The Media Line under condition of anonymity that the Palestinian people have no faith in either of the two factions involved in the talks. “For the last 15 years we have needed a unified government to fight settlements and the occupation, to support prisoners during the strike… We needed one unified official political Palestinian entity, but they failed to put aside their differences.” He agreed, though, that the Palestinian reconciliation is a necessary step that needs to be taken.
“The bad situation in Gaza is a result of Fatah and Hamas and their respective governments, which resulted in corruption and disingenuousness.” He continued, “They need to work on regaining the trust of their people.”