Palestinian reconciliation: Regional and international efforts await Fatah’s approval

The current developments in the Palestinian arena have opened the door for three intersecting trajectories related to the Gaza Strip and reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority — as well as Israel.

These trajectories revolve around Palestinian reconciliation with Egyptian support, ending the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip and the issue of Israeli troops captured in Gaza.

While there is limited information available surrounding the matter of the captive soldiers, developments on the reconciliation question are somewhat clearer, despite the range of actors across the region who are involved in this process. These developments indicate that a multilateral deal is in the works, which will seek to guarantee Palestinian reconciliation and put an end to the crisis in Gaza.

Reconciliation 2018

The appointment of Major General Ahmed Abdel Khaleq as the official in charge of the Palestinian file in Egypt’s General Intelligence Services (GIS), replacing General Sameh Nabil in early July, marks a new step in the path to reconciliation.

Abdel Khaleq — despite having only held his new position for less than a month — put together an Egyptian proposal that stipulated a four-stage reconciliation plan. The proposal, which was published by the state-run Turkish news company Anadolu Agency and the veracity of which was previously confirmed to Mada Masr by an anonymous, the Egyptian proposal includes 10 specific points and a time frame for the implementation of the proposal, as well as an invitation to a Hamas delegation led by Saleh al-Arouri, deputy head of the movement. Three days after Arouri’s visit to Cairo, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh announced the movement’s approval of Egypt’s proposal, but Fatah, the political party in control of the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority, stated that Egypt’s proposal consisted of a rough list of suggestions outlining mechanisms to implement a reconciliation plan, and that it is not a final or thorough document.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior source from the intelligence services in Ramallah tells Mada Masr that the discussions between Fatah and Egypt regarding the reconciliation issue have been very positive, while adding that delegations of Fatah and Hamas have yet to meet.

Another high-ranking Hamas source who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity adds that Fatah accepted the idea of returning to the point that negotiations had reached before the March 13 assassination attempt on Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and head of Palestinian General Intelligence Services Majed Faraj, which led to a freeze in the reconciliation process.

The new Egyptian proposal is a continuation of the Cairo-brokered agreement reached by the two parties following a political standoff in October last year, according to the Hamas source. It includes the four proposed stages of reconciliation. The first stage is related to the transferring of authority to a new unity government, and stipulates the returning of Palestinian ministers to Gaza and allowing them to carry out their work, the start of negotiations to form a unity government within five weeks; implementing a unified wage policy for employees in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and resolving the thorny issue of the integration of some 40,000 Gaza government employees, half of which are military, into the new government.

In the second stage of the Egyptian plan, Hamas is set to hand over the proceeds of tax collection to the Palestinian unity government and cut the salaries of employees appointed by the movement.

In the third and fourth phases, specialized committees will meet to discuss the security issue, under Egypt’s supervision, and two other committees will meet to address plans to unify the judiciary. These efforts are expected to conclude with a meeting to develop the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

Despite statements by Fatah leaders maintaining that the atmosphere around reconciliation negotiations has been positive, a Palestinian source speaking to Mada Masr confirms that the plain still includes four points about which Fatah previously expressed concerns.

These four points include: Fatah’s insistence on the handover of power all at once, whereas the Egyptian plan proposes to split the process into several stages over a three-month timeframe; Fatah’s refusal to deal with any security personnel appointed by Hamas; Fatah’s reservations on the arms within the Palestinian factions and concerns about Hamas becoming responsible for tax collection.

During an interview with Mada Masr, leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement Khodeir Habib says that the fact that Fatah has “stalled” in its response to Egypt’s proposal for reconciliation, while Hamas has been decisive in its agreement, raises fears and doubts that the agreement will come to fruition.

“We fear there will be reluctance or disagreement on the proposal,” the source says.

In his speech at a meeting of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization on Saturday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas affirmed Fatah’s continued concerns about the four problematic points, stating that “the Palestinian [Fatah] delegation does not have to respond to anyone, because when we discuss this issue, we are still talking from the position we took on October 21, 2017, the position which we are still set on.”

Hesitation and frequent meetings have instilled doubt in a number of political observers. “Reconciliation is really a tactical, long-term choice for both parties,” says Hussam al-Dajani, a political science professor at Ummah University in Gaza.

Political analyst Talal Okel says that, despite GIS demands for stronger pressure on both sides, regional and international factors have had a significant impact on the trajectory of reconciliation efforts.

The Hebrew version of Al-Monitor website stated that Tel Aviv, which was previously working to undermine Palestinian reconciliation efforts, has come to view their completion with great interest. The renewed interest comes in light of what it believes reconciliation could achieve in terms of reducing possible Israeli military confrontation with Hamas, as, according to Al-Monitor, “the [Israeli] security institution is betting on the contribution of Palestinian reconciliation to improving the economic and humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, which reduces the risk of the explosion of security conditions there and Israel being dragged into a comprehensive confrontation.”

London-based Al-Hayat newspaper quoted an unnamed Palestinian official as saying that Israel had informed the Palestinian Authority that it had no objections to a reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas. The official said that Israel has stopped threatening the PA with punitive measures should the agreement continue.

Israel has repeatedly threatened Abbas directly with stopping customs transfers (which make up two-thirds of the state budget) in the event of the formation of a government involving Hamas.

A comprehensive UN proposal?

The recent visits to Cairo by Hamas and Fatah delegations have coincided with the visit of UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov, during which he met with Egyptian officials and representatives from Hamas.

“Egypt and the United Nations are exerting enormous pressure on all parties to reach an agreement on Gaza,” an Israeli politician was quoted as saying on Israel’s Channel 10. “This initiative is unprecedented, but it is too early to predict its success or failure.”

The Israeli politician referred to the proposal that Mladenov brought to the region with him, which has not been fully outlined as of yet. However, a senior source from Hamas tells Mada Masr that “what Mladenov has done is insufficient and does not guarantee the full lifting of sanctions or breaking of the siege. Although, there are some positive points that can be developed and built on to get out of the tension that prevails in the region and prevent further deterioration and escalation.”

The source points out that the Hamas delegation presented several demands to Mladenov related to lifting the siege on the Gaza Strip and the punitive measures imposed on it, as well as resolving the humanitarian crisis that has resulted from both. This came during the three meetings, which began on July 23 and brought the parties together in just 72 hours.

“Mladenov’s efforts continue and Hamas leadership is waiting for his response to the demands made of him, which would lead to lifting the sanctions and breaking the siege and solving the crises in the strip,” the source adds.

Zulfiqar Swairjo, formerly a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s political bureau, says that there is talk of a comprehensive deal brought to the table by the international delegation.

“In a matter of days, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin [Netanyahu] will sit with the Inner Security Cabinet to make the decision. The Israeli side is looking for any method that will cost it less than explosion [of the Gaza security situation],” he tells Mada Masr.

Earlier this week, Swairjo stated that there is a blueprint for an informal agreement between Hamas and Israel, which includes five points: a comprehensive ceasefire, the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza, international forces being stationed on the 1967 Gaza borders and not on the armistice line, a complete lift of the siege, and the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip, the crossings, the sea port and the airport.

Hamza Abu Eltarabesh 

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