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Reconciliation can wait

Reconciliation can wait

An explosive memo leaked to the press appears to show that Fatah is stringing Hamas along on reconciliation, writes Saleh Al-Naami

Anyone browsing the online forums of the Fatah and Hamas youth would be shocked by the attacks each is launching against the other, an indicator of how far relations have deteriorated between followers of each group. Fatah condemns Ismail Haniyeh's security agencies for blocking the entry into Gaza of a delegation from the Palestinian presidency and Fatah leadership two weeks ago. Matters have become so entangled that no one any longer remembers the optimistic statements by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal after their last meeting in Cairo.

Sakhr Bassiso, member of Fatah's Central Committee who was part of the Fatah delegation that attempted to visit Gaza, said that Gaza security officers asked the delegation to wait at the border crossing in northern Gaza before allowing them passage into Gaza. Delegation members refused to wait and left. "What happened proves that the Hamas leadership is uninterested in reconciliation," asserted Bassiso. "They should be prosecuted for taking control of the Gaza Strip without legitimate right."

For his part, leading Hamas figure Salah Al-Bardawil described what security officers did at the border as a routine procedure, explaining that to ask the delegation to wait "briefly was to allow for coordinating their official and secure entry into the Gaza Strip, not to insult them." Al-Bardawil added: "It is unfortunate that the leaders of Fatah do not hesitate to coordinate with occupation authorities when they move inside the West Bank. Meanwhile, they are so sensitive to a routine security measure that aims to ensure their comfort upon entering Gaza."

Many attempts to rein in recent tensions were unsuccessful. Jamal Mohaysen, a member of Fatah's Central Committee, said that contacts between the leadership of Fatah and Hamas's leadership in Damascus are underway to overcome the crisis between the two groups. "We are in contact with Hamas leaders in Damascus," stated Mohaysen. "They are the ones responsible for signing the reconciliation agreement, not the group's leadership in Gaza. We are committed to work on overcoming all obstacles and will earnestly seek to cooperate with all Palestinian factions in Gaza and the West Bank to implement the reconciliation agreement." Mohaysen urged that all factions implement the Cairo agreement and "not search for obstacles that impede reconciliation and nurture continued divisions between the West Bank and Gaza."

But soon after tempers cooled over the border incident, another crisis erupted that compounded distrust between the two camps. The prime minister of the Gaza government, Haniyeh, directly accused the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership in Ramallah of attempting to prevent Arab leaders from meeting him during a recent tour of Egypt, Sudan, Turkey and Tunisia. Haniyeh told a session of Palestinian parliament attended by Hamas representatives from Gaza on 12 January that the leaders of these countries ignored these attempts.

"I was told by the Tunisian presidency that Abbas sent a message to prevent my meetings, but the Tunisian president responded that Tunisia is a country of law and is receiving [me] as a legitimate prime minister according to Palestinian law until a new prime minister is instated," said Haniyeh. "We did not bring this matter up in the media and we informed the Tunisians that they have to be patient with the byproducts of complications on the Palestinian domestic scene."

He was also disappointed that efforts aiming to achieve Palestinian reconciliation succumbed to "foreign pressure and Israeli interference", asserting that this pressure slowed down the implementation of the reconciliation deal. "There was determination to continue on the path to reconciliation, to heal the wounds and stand united in the face of occupation," Haniyeh declared. "But unfortunately, Israeli and international intervention left a negative effect."

He also highlighted one of the key issues of dispute between Fatah and Hamas, namely the Arab League transferring $32 million for reconstruction in Gaza to the treasury of the government in Ramallah. Haniyeh asserted that there is no agreement between Hamas and the PA for the transfer of reconstruction funds to the government in Ramallah, denying statements by Azzam Al-Ahmed, a member of the Fatah's Central Committee, that such an agreement exists.

Haniyeh highlighted another sensitive issue between the two groups regarding the future of security agencies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and said he has asked for "Arab support to restructure Palestinian security forces without the cooperation of Israeli occupation".

Shortly after Haniyeh's speech, the Palestinian media reported on a leaked memo by Adnan Al-Damiri, the policy director of Ramallah's security forces, that stated: "Palestinian reconciliation is only a tool to put pressure on the occupation to reach our goals in negotiations," and not to genuinely reach reconciliation with Hamas. In the memo, Al-Damiri said that Fatah "will not compromise on anything to Hamas when implementing the reconciliation agreement." He further "reassured" security agencies in the West Bank by saying: "Neither presidential nor legislative elections will take place, and the legislative body will not be activated."

The memo, published on independent Palestinian news websites, embarrassed Fatah's leadership and gave Hamas proof that the PA is not serious about achieving reconciliation. Ironically, despite tensions between the two sides reconciliation committees formed after the last meeting in Cairo have resolved some of the disputes at the root of internal divisions. It was announced in Gaza and Ramallah that Salam Fayyad's government will issue passports to thousands of people in the Gaza Strip, although Fayyad's government had blocked these applicants from acquiring passports because of their affiliation to Hamas.

Mustafa Al-Barghouti, member of the Freedoms Committee that was formed during the Cairo talks, said that there is agreement to allow the distribution in Gaza of newspapers loyal to Fatah and Hamas publications in the West Bank. Al-Barghouti added that there has been progress on the freedom of movement and return to the Gaza Strip, especially for Fatah leaders and activists who fled Gaza after Hamas took control in July 2007. He hoped that sparring parties can reach agreement to end the problem of security agencies in Ramallah and Gaza pursuing Hamas and Fatah activists respectively, adding that progress has been made on the issue.

Khaled Al-Batsh, a leading figure in the Islamic Jihad and a colleague of Al-Barghouti on the Freedoms Committee in Gaza, said that Haniyeh handed over the keys of Abbas's home in southern Al-Rimal district to Fatah representatives. The prime minister also issued a decree to reopen the headquarters of the Central Elections Committee in Gaza.

But displays of progress in implementing the reconciliation deal did not calm tensions between the two sides, which were amplified by Abbas's decision to continue "exploratory" negotiations with Israel in Amman under the auspices of Jordan's monarch. Abbas's decision was criticised by all Palestinian factions who said that this step would is certain to negatively impact the chances of successful reconciliation.

Kayed Al-Ghoul, a member of Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, believes that restarting negotiations is a "mistake" not only because Israel has not taken any steps to bring about a re-launch of talks, but mainly because the decision will critically impact efforts aiming to achieve reconciliation.

All Palestinian parties are relying on Egypt's role, and an informed Palestinians source said that the Egyptian security team overseeing the reconciliation deal would soon arrive in both Gaza and Ramallah for a series of meetings. This is an attempt to prevent a hiatus on key reconciliation issues before the end of the month.

Despite progress made by some reconciliation committees and efforts by Egypt to further Palestinian reconciliation, all signs indicate that agreement by both sides to hold legislative and presidential elections, and form a new government -- two main issues that would indicate that internal divisions are resolved -- is unlikely in the short term.

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