According to Fatah leader Azzam Al-Ahmed, an Egyptian security delegation is expected to visit Gaza within days to follow up on the faltering Palestinian reconciliation agreement brokered by Cairo.
Al-Ahmed, in Cairo to attend a conference for Arab Parliamentarians, appeared to avoid meeting with the high-level Hamas delegation that was visiting Egypt in a bid to push efforts to implement the agreement which seeks to end the 12-year-old conflict between Hamas and Fatah, the two main Palestinian factions.
As Al-Ahram Weekly went to press on Tuesday evening there were no signs of an imminent breakthrough. Indeed, in a sign relations between the two factions are, if anything, worsening, Hamas sources announced on Tuesday morning that its delegation, led by Ismail Haniyeh, head of the movement’s politburo, had met with several aides to former Fatah leader Mahmoud Dahlan, a rival to current Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.
The Hamas delegation, which included senior officials Khalil Al-Haya, Rawhi Mashharawi and Fathi Hammad, crossed the Rafah border on Friday morning just before Egypt closed it ahead of a wide-ranging military operation against terrorist groups in north and central Sinai.
The crossing had been open for just two days, following a continuous closure of 50 days. Egypt allowed only 650 Palestinians into Gaza and the abrupt shutdown left hundreds stranded on both sides of the border.
The border crossing is the only gateway to and from the Gaza Strip that is not under Israeli control. Following Hamas’ electoral victory in 2006 and its eventual seizing of the Strip from Fatah Israel imposed a tight sea, land and air blockade. This exacerbated the Palestinian divide, leaving Palestinians with two governments, one in Gaza, led by Hamas, the other the internationally-recognised Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority chaired by Abbas, governing the West-Bank.
Since then Egypt has continued to host talks between the various Palestinian factions, though mainly with Fatah and Hamas.
In October 2017 Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation deal in Cairo in which they agreed to a series of steps that would re-install the Palestinian Authority to Gaza, including at the borders with Israel and Egypt.
Abbas was due to visit Gaza for the first time in more than 10 years shortly after the agreement, which contained a pledge to address the issue of the thousands of civil servants hired by Hamas over the past decade, was signed. The two groups also agreed to discuss a timetable for holding general and presidential elections.
Abbas was expected, as per the deal, to lift the sanctions he had imposed on Gaza to punish Hamas. In April 2017 he had asked Israel to reduce electricity supplies to the Strip and slashed the salaries of PA employees based there. The measures exacerbated the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Gaza which the United Nations says has become “unlivable” for its population of two million.
More recently, the two factions have been busy exchanging accusations of non-commitment to the deal brokered by Egypt. Hamas said it had dissolved the administrative body it created to replace the PA in Gaza, and invited the government of Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamadallah to resume its duties in the Strip, which did not happen. According to Fatah officials, Hamas has deliberately placed obstacles in the way of implementing the agreement.
Hamas sources say their delegation discussed the issue of employees, taxes, energy, electricity, border crossings and other day-to-day issues as well as security cooperation with Egyptian intelligence officials.
This is the first visit to Egypt by the delegation’s leader, Haniyeh, since the United States State Department designated him a terrorist on 31 January. It’s also the first time the group has engaged in talks with the Egyptian General Intelligence since its chief, Khaled Fawzi, was replaced by General Abbas Kamel — President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s top aide — last month.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement that the visit is aimed at consulting with Egypt on efforts to ease the crises in blockaded Gaza where conditions are on “the edge of the abyss”.
The group’s meeting in Cairo with Dahlan’s aide Samir Al-Mashharawi, among others, suggests Egyptian officials may well share Hamas’ view that Fatah is stalling on the agreement.
Dahlan, 57, a former security chief of the Palestinian Authority in Gaza, was expelled by Fatah in 2011 and sent into exile. He was sentenced to three years in prison by a Palestinian court in 2016 on charges of graft. His lawyer described the sentence as a ploy by Abbas, 82, to sideline his political rival.
“Abbas is the main obstacle in this reconciliation agreement,” says Abdel-Qader Yassin, a Palestinian expert based in Cairo. “He didn’t lift the sanctions he imposed on Gaza almost a year ago even after [US President Donald] Trump declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”
Abbas, says Yassin, could have used the reconciliation deal as a riposte to Trump but refrained from doing so, fearing that the return of the PA in Gaza — which is close to explosion — would end in failure and lead to Abbas’ own removal from power.
“He fears rivals like the popular Fatah leader Marwan Barghouthi [jailed by Israel] and even Dahlan,” says Yassin.
* This story was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly