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Fatah source: Egypt listens to delegation’s push for priority of reconciliation over Gaza truce
Fatah is expected to announce its response to Egypt’s proposal tonight
PLO and Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmed, Getty Images

After spending the weekend in Cairo, a Fatah delegation returned to the West Bank on Sunday night to brief Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas on the details of bilateral talks with Egyptian officials.

According to a Palestinian source familiar with the talks, Fatah will announce its response to Egypt’s July proposal for reconciliation on Monday night, following the delegation’s meeting with Abbas.

The delegation — headed by Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmed — came to Cairo to discuss Palestinian reconciliation on the heels of recent meetings between Palestinian factions from Gaza and Egyptian officials, in which the parameters of a truce agreement with the Israeli occupation were all but finalized.

While there were setbacks in the truce agreement rooted in the divisions between Gaza factions — most notably Hamas — and the PA over administrative authority, sources close to the Gaza factions previously told Mada Masr that Fatah’s refusal to participate in the talks “could push the other factions to move forward without approval from Fatah or the Popular Front.”

However, Fatah’s insistence that reconciliation between Palestinian factions occur before any truce is brokered now appears to be taking priority in the Egypt-mediated talks.

“The delegation did not feel there were any positive developments in the reconciliation issue because the meetings held before the Eid holiday in Cairo focused more on the truce,” Ahmed told local Palestinian media. “However, there was a mutual understanding with our sister state, Egypt, that reconciliation should be prioritized because the truce issue must be dealt with on the national level, meaning it is the PLO’s responsibility, not that of the factions.”

While Fatah deliberates the proposal for reconciliation, Cairo’s efforts with other Palestinian factions have been put on hold.

A senior Islamic Jihad source tells Mada Masr that Cairo has asked the Palestinian factions to delay the resumption of the truce talks. The source, who participated in the meetings between Gaza factions and Egyptian officials in Cairo last week, says that Islamic Jihad and other factions have received an official invitation from the Egyptian side to travel to Cairo on Monday to continue the discussions that were carried out before Eid al-Adha holiday. However, yesterday, the factions were informed by Egyptian General Intelligence Service (GIS) officials that the meeting would be postponed for a few days, due to the travel of GIS Director Abbas Kamel, who is currently in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

The weekend in Cairo

According to a prominent Fatah figure, the delegation that left Cairo on Sunday evening only met with Egyptian officials, refusing to hold meetings with other factions. The delegation’s focus, the source says, was on ending divisions first and foremost, adding that Fatah sees the agreement between Israel and Gaza factions — as well as humanitarian projects to be carried out in Gaza under the banner of the United States-sponsored “century deal,” or otherwise — as secondary.

The broad terms of the agreement that is on the table includes a truce on both sides, the opening of the border crossings in and out of Gaza, a prisoner exchange, the creation of a maritime passageway between Gaza and Cyprus under Israeli supervision, in addition to the construction of a Hamas-controlled airport in the occupied city of Eilat, as outlined in statements attributed to Palestinian Vice President Mahmoud al-Aloul.

However, the source says that the peace agreement will not come about in the way it is being prepared now, as any faction discussing the issue outside of the PLO is discussing it outside of national interests. The source particularly criticized the notion that Palestinian ports would be administered by foreign bodies on land outside of Palestinian territory, a measure, the source argues, that “no state in the world would accept.

“How could there be a Palestinian entity protecting Palestinian rights while using a port under Israeli supervision in Cyprus or an airport under Israeli supervision in Eilat?”

Following the close of the talks on Sunday, Ahmed, who headed the Fatah delegation to Egypt, told local Palestinian media that Egyptian officials were receptive to this criticism and stressed that they were not willing to discuss any port or airport outside of the Gaza Strip, adding that Egyptian intelligence officials emphasized that they would not accept any alternative to the PA’s control over Palestinian territories and stressed the need to enable national reconciliation in the Gaza Strip.

However, an MP in the Palestinian Legislative Council, who spoke to Mada Masr on condition of anonymity, says the possibility of reconciliation would die if the truce agreement with Israel does not go through, noting that Abbas is on the verge of taking several steps to stop the agreement.

The MP cites the Palestinian president’s categorical refusal to build an airport or seaport outside Palestinian territory, emphasizing that a truce should be a national issue led by the PLO and that the organization was the only entity authorized to do so.

The issue of administrative control over Gaza has long been a contentious issue. Abbas imposed sanctions on Gaza in April 2017, the lifting of which was contingent on the full dissolution of the Gaza administrative committee, which Hamas set up in March 2017, and the handing over of administrative control to the unity government.

The administrative committee took on the task of managing the governance of Gaza’s security, education, health, social development, financial development and economy in March 2017. It was formed as an alternative to the 2014 national unity government, which was unable to take over due to disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority over the details of the reconciliation. Hamas conceded to the PA’s demands to dissolve the administrative committee in September 2017, following mediation efforts by Egypt. The sanctions, however, remain in effect, and Hamas has accused the PA of subjecting Gazans to punitive measures through the sanctions, which include decreasing electricity subsidies, reducing employee salaries and constricting the entry of medicine into Gaza.   

Some Hamas members previously told Mada Masr that a separation from the West Bank under the terms of the US-brokered “century deal” may free Gaza from the control of the economically powerful territory.

The Fatah source, however, says the US’s involvement in the peace agreement stems from a desire to consolidate the state of division between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, asserting that it does not stem from an interest in the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

The source cites the US administration’s decision to cut US$200 million in financial aid to Palestine, which they say comes as part of a war of financial sanctions the Trump administration is waging against the Palestinian people and its leadership to pressure them to accept the century deal.

According to US, European and Egyptian diplomatic sources in Cairo who previously spoke to Mada Masr, the deal of the century includes security and economic arrangements on the borders between Egypt and Palestinian territory, as well as the Egyptian-Israeli borders, in addition to a number of projects in Sinai, funded by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in exchange for the labor force comprising of two-thirds Palestinians in Gaza and one-third Egyptians.

The Fatah source says that adhering to the truce agreement will pave the way for the “deal of the century” and distract people with secondary issues that are from their national political rights, including ending the occupation, founding an independent Palestinian state and resolving the refugee issue.

The Fatah source stressed that reconciliation is linked to Hamas’ willingness to allow the Palestinian Unity Government to carry out its duties fully Gaza. If Egypt can convince Hamas to permit this, there would be a meeting between the organizations, the source adds.

On August 15, the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the armed wing of Fatah, said it would not recognize any truce agreement which did not include both the Gaza Strip and West Bank.“Our conditions are a mutual, concurrent and comprehensive truce which guarantees the complete lifting of the siege and the rebuilding of the airport and the commercial port,” it stated.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine has also joined those opposing the truce agreement. A prominent member of the front previously told Mada Masr that the front opposes moving forward with a truce agreement in the absence of a consensus across all Palestinian factions and that the Front’s delegation explicitly informed Egypt of this position.

The terms of the Palestinian reconciliation have been the subject of a dispute after Egypt introduced a revised proposal at the request of Fatah, according to the vice president of Hamas’ political office in Gaza, Khalil al-Hayya.