On previous occasions rapprochement between Cairo and Hamas have typically occurred in the framework of bilateral arrangements which fall apart almost as soon as they are agreed because of Hamas’ failure to meet its obligations (generally related to security issues such as requests to hand over individuals implicated in the support of terrorist organisations accused of carrying out attacks in Egypt).
However, on this current occasion, the Palestinian Authority is absent from the latest moves, and what is more, Mohamed Dahlan has assumed a major role in possible new arrangements, raising the question of how the PA views the latest developments.
The mooted changes are being directly informed by regional developments — not least the crisis with Qatar — which continue to have an impact on Hamas’ foreign policy. While Gaza has upped its praise and flattery of Doha, it is noteworthy that it has, contrary to habit, refrained from criticising Egypt.
In fact, it softened its political rhetoric towards Egypt just as Cairo was delivering much needed fuel to Gaza, the most recent consignment being delivered last week in order to restart Gaza’s electricity supply which ground to a halt when Israel cut off fuel supplies last month.
The latest fuel supplies, moreover, were delivered two days after the terrorist attack in Al-Barth, south of Rafah. Among those who carried out the attack were three Daesh operatives -- former members of the Ezzeddin Al-Qassam brigades, Hamas’ paramilitary wing.
Hamas condemned the attack strongly and its officials took part in condolence ceremonies arranged by Egyptians in Gaza. The head of Hamas’ political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, who attended the ceremonies, said that Hamas “will take intensive measures along Gaza’s borders with Egypt to prevent infiltration from either side.”
Despite such significant gestures, sources in Cairo believe that while Hamas may not have been directly involved in the attack, it still bears culpability because in the end it is responsible for what takes place in Gaza.
Sources in Cairo say the arrangements which emerged from recent meetings in Cairo are still in effect. The meetings between a Hamas delegation headed by Yehia Al-Sanwar paved the way for a Palestinian security delegation to arrive in Cairo to discuss measures to secure the Egyptian-Gaza border, including the creation of a buffer zone on the Gazan side.
Meetings, still in progress as this report was filed, between Hamas and Dahlan’s representatives, are being held after earlier meetings between Dahlan and Al-Sanwar resulted in a number of agreements.
One leaked arrangement is that Dahlan will pay compensation for the dead and wounded during the battle for Gaza in 2007 when he was head of the national security apparatus.
Another agreement involves the creation of a new government that will share control of the security agencies, though control of the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing would be under the exclusive supervision of Dahlan.
Hamas employees currently involved there would be treated like other PA employees and be paid by Dahlan. Under the agreement, Dahlan would be in a position to return to Gaza and head a new government.
Mustafa Al-Ladawi, a political observer from Gaza, says there has been a convergence of interests between Dahlan and the authorities in Gaza.
“Dahlan wants to return to Gaza and Hamas is in a predicament,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly. “Both sides have made tactically and temporarily convenient agreements but they could evolve through practice into a more strategic arrangement. Each side has its own agenda. What we can say, however, is that Gaza is ripe for this kind of agreement given the economic straits Gazans are in.”
Sources in Cairo say Dahlan will send a delegation that will include Samir Mashharawi to launch the mutual arrangements with Cairo. Although this suggests implementation will begin soon some obstacles remain.
Al-Ladawi envisages two possible scenarios when it comes to the PA’s response.
“Either it will grasp the ‘reconciliation card’ with Hamas and offer compensation so as to keep Gaza within the scope of PA influence or the opposite: turn to Dahlan in the belief he can be restrained or appeased and brought on the PA’s side again.”
Al-Ladawi adds that both prospects will give rise to new situations.
Egyptian sources say the story leaked to the Palestinian media about a power-sharing arrangement between Dahlan and Hamas has more than a grain of truth, adding the proviso that Cairo has no intentions of creating a parallel authority in Gaza.
Cairo will not move away from Mahmoud Abbas, they say. The only suggestion that has been proposed is that Dahlan serve as Gaza’s representative in Europe and the Gulf, not as prime minister, as rumour has it.
They add that the expansion of the Rafah crossing to permit for a greater flow of goods and the possible construction of some commercial outlets in Gaza is still subject to feasibility studies. The same sources also confirm that the only agency responsible for supervising the Gazan side of the crossing will be the PA Presidential Guard.
Tarek Fahmi, an advisor at the National Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, notes that vis-à-vis Palestine Cairo accords the same degree of attention to Gaza as it does the West Bank. He stresses that no structural action will be undertaken in Gaza without the approval of Mahmoud Abbas.
This principle was reaffirmed during Abbas’ visit to Cairo this week when President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi reassured the Palestinian president that no agreement will be made behind his back. Cairo will also continue to engage with all Palestinian factions, from Hamas to Jihad.
The relationship between Palestinian parties is, in the end, governed by the agreements they strike among themselves. At the same time, Cairo remains committed to its role concerning the Palestinian cause, and if the details sometimes seem overwhelming, Cairo will not allow them to overshadow the main issues.
This article was first published by Al-Ahram Weekly.