Hamas's leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – Press Photo
CAIRO – 10 October 2017: Representatives of Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas will meet Tuesday in Cairo in the second round of reconciliation negotiations between the two parties in the Egypt-brokered initiative to end a 10-year rift.
After many failed attempts, a significant breakthrough was achieved in the reconciliation talks between the two Palestinian factions. For the first time since 2014, internationally recognized Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah held last week a governmental meeting in Gaza — a move that recovered hope in ending the deepest rift Palestine ever experienced. However, the hard part begins now.
Tuesday’s meeting is expected to discuss a number of controversial issues, the most difficult of which would be the security authority in the Gaza Strip and its borders.
In an interview with Egypt’s CBC, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called on Hamas to surrender its weapons to the Palestinian Authority. “I will not accept reproducing the Hezbollah experience … We are one state, one system, one law and one weapon,” said Abbas.
Hamas proved its good intentions when it accepted the dissolution of its administrative committee and expressed willingness to hold parliamentary elections. Nonetheless, Abbas’ remarks clashed with a sharp rejection from Hamas’ leadership, which stressed that disarming its military wing is not up for discussion as long as Israel occupies Palestinian territories.
Hamas’ strong military wing, the al-Qassam Brigades, is estimated to have 20,000-25,000 fighters in its ranks. These forces enabled the Islamic movement to take control of Gaza after it ousted Fatah representatives from the territory in 2007. Therefore, the Palestinian Authority made itself clear from the very beginning that it would not accept a scenario in the Gaza Strip in which Hamas’ armed wing would be able to hold onto its weapons.
All previous reconciliation attempts between the two sides have failed due to the intensive conflict over the control of borders and security in the Gaza Strip. The question now is, will Hamas accept to hand over its weapons to the Palestinian Authority, or will Cairo-sponsored talks face the same fate?
Other difficult issues would be the status of thousands of public service employees hired by Hamas without the Palestinian Authority’s approval, as well as economic sanctions imposed by Abbas in recent months on Gaza to pressure Hamas to compromise. The Palestinian Authority has slashed budgets allocated to purchase electricity from Israel to Gaza, which affected water and power supply to households — not to mention the negative impact on health services.
Hamas was partly responsible for the electricity problem because it took over collecting individual and commercial electricity bills that Gazans had to pay to the Fatah government; however, Hamas was not using this money to buy the needed fuel to keep the generators going.
The Palestinian Authority also cut employees’ salaries in Gaza and limited travel permits for residents seeking medical services outside the besieged strip. Fatah said it would be prepared to restore the various budgets once Hamas enables the legitimate government to exercise its authority over the strip.
Naturally, many of these problems could easily be resolved once the two parties unite under the umbrella of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO): the only Palestinian body recognized by Israel and the international community as the sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
“We (Fatah) disagree with them (Hamas) in ideology and politics … but we are part of the Palestinian people, and so are they,” said Abbas.