Between success and failure
Will the Palestinian reconciliation agreement finally be implemented, asks Saleh Al-Naami
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Palestinians mark the seventh anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat with a poster "Marching to the holy city of Jerusalem"
From his office in the modest building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Al-Nasr Street, which connects Al-Rimal district with Al-Sheikh Radwan district in the north of Gaza City, Ghazi Hamad, the undersecretary of foreign affairs in Ismail Haniyeh's government, continues to call the leaders of Hamas and Fatah. Hamad is hoping to make the upcoming meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the head of Hamas's politburo, Khaled Meshaal, on 24 November in Cairo a success. He knows that the meeting must be well prepared beforehand, specifically in terms of talking points. This is why Hamad is spending all this time talking to both sides, and he has many friends among Fatah leaders.
"There is no doubt that both sides realise that they have reached a dead end, and it is impossible for the status quo to continue," Hamad told Al-Ahram Weekly. "Implementing the reconciliation agreement is not only vital to both Hamas and Fatah, but to continue as we are would result in the collapse of the entire Palestinian national cause forever. This is why we must work earnestly. It is blatantly obvious that President Abbas's political agenda has failed and there is no sense in continuing to rely on it, since Israel refuses to meet the minimum requirements for a political settlement of the conflict and continues its settlement and Judaisation policies. Meanwhile, the US administration is unashamedly collaborating with Netanyahu's government. At the same time, no government in the Gaza Strip can gain international legitimacy without national unity."
But despite Hamad's arguments, it appears that an agenda for the meeting has not been decided on. This raises doubts over whether the scheduled meeting will be successful or would become yet another encounter between Abbas and Meshaal that produced no tangible outcomes. Concern over possible failure caused Egyptian mediators to intensify their meetings with representatives from Hamas and Fatah in order to guarantee a successful encounter.
Sources told the Weekly that senior officials in Egypt's intelligence agency and foreign ministry recently met several times in Cairo with leaders from the two groups to discuss ways of implementing the reconciliation agreement signed in Cairo seven months ago. Informed sources said that these talks primarily aimed to urge both groups to agree on the prime minister who will form the next transitional cabinet, since Abbas insists on choosing incumbent Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, whom Hamas rejects. The sources continued that the meetings have so far failed because Hamas continues to object to Fayyad's appointment and there are no signs that Abbas is willing to change his mind.
Sources also told the Weekly that there is a direct and permanent channel of communication between the deputy chief of Hamas's politburo, Moussa Abu Marzouq, and Azzam Al-Ahmed, a member of Fatah's Central Committee, with the aim of reaching an agreement on the upcoming meeting's agenda.
During telephone interviews with party and independent Palestinian sources regarding mediation efforts between the two sides, all agreed that the meeting between Meshaal and Abbas would decide the chances for success or failure of reconciliation. They said that the possibility of success is high if the two men agree on a comprehensive nationalist work strategy that not only implements the reconciliation agreement, but goes beyond that by trying to reach agreement on actual political options such as the future of negotiations, confronting Israel, resistance mechanisms in the coming phase, utilising recent changes in the Arab world to serve the Palestinian cause, as well as implementing the reconciliation deal.
The sources added that there are circles inside both Fatah and Hamas that are focused on discussing these issues and reaching agreement on them, in the belief that the two sides should agree to revise the decision to negotiate with Israel as well as keeping the Palestinian Authority (PA) and its security agencies in place. Also, to reconsider resistance activities in terms of goals, means, and well considerations of when and where. They added that there is pressure on the leaders of both groups to demonstrate leadership and agree to genuinely revise the platform of each faction to guarantee the interests of the Palestinian people and their cause.
Despite this optimistic vision, the sources revealed that Fatah and Hamas leaders who expect the meeting to succeed are a minority, while the majority in both camps does not anticipate any real breakthrough. Many within Hamas believe the meeting is bound to fail if Abbas is only interested in discussing legislative and presidential elections while ignoring other issues in the reconciliation agreement. On the other hand, Fatah sources asserted that if Hamas insists on abandoning negotiations for good and annulling signed agreements between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel, this would definitely spoil the encounter even before it begins.
The sources continued that senior officials in Hamas and Fatah are upset about recent statements by Abbas promoting the urgency of holding parliamentary and presidential elections, since Hamas believes that advocating elections and ignoring other aspects of the national reconciliation deal only aims at removing Hamas from the political arena. A common belief among Hamas leaders, added the sources, is that despite Abbas's very critical tone towards Israel, especially after he went to the UN to apply for membership for a Palestinian state, and the unlikelihood of re-launching negotiations in light of Tel Aviv's persistence in settlement construction, Abbas is still counting on a relationship with Washington and its role. This is why he is hesitant in taking a decision on national reconciliation, according to the sources, and that the general sense among some Hamas leaders is that Abbas is concerned that implementing reconciliation would definitively result in the collapse of all links between him and the US -- something he wants to avoid.
Sources said that Hamas believes that the escalation in the media by Abbas against Israel is contrary to the actions of the PA on the ground, especially as it continues security cooperation with the occupation army, detention of Hamas political activists and Salam Fayyad's government in Ramallah continues to refuse issuing passports to many Palestinian citizens living in Gaza under the pretext of their ties to Hamas, or because they work in institutions and security agencies affiliated with Haniyeh's government.
On the other hand, sources close to Abbas believe that in light of the prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel, Hamas is taking a more hard-line position regarding the conciliation deal because the group's leaders believe that the prisoner exchange has greatly boosted its popularity. The sources warned that the upcoming meeting is bound to fail not only if there is no agreement on an agenda but also if common ground is not decided before talks begin, essentially that the meeting between the two be preceded by a preliminary agreement on the issues under discussion. This would require intensified meetings between representatives of the two sides to ensure success.
Hamas's position was clearly expressed in statements by Meshaal who called for "reorganising the Palestinian house and agreeing on a national agenda for the coming phase." In an address via telephone at a ceremony honouring a leader in the Muslim Brotherhood on Sunday in Gaza, he said: "Through Palestinian reconciliation, Hamas is seeking to reorganise the Palestinian house through agreement on a national agenda that reflects the lessons learnt from the past, to advocate our rights and national principlesزê¦ We realise that the victory of the Palestinian cause depends on resistance; the principles of our movement champion conciliation, restructuring the Palestinian house and ending divisionزê¦ We are opening our hearts and minds to our brothers in Fatah and all factions, and telling them that after all the doors have closed and all bets are lost, to come because all that is left are our labours and guns, since it has become obvious that neither the Americans nor others nor those who want to negotiate will do us any good."
The only hope that the two sides will agree to implement the conciliation deal is the fact that the Arab Spring has undermined the reliance of both sides on regional heavyweights. Despite appearances, Hamas has realised that its margin of flexibility has shrunk after the eruption of the Syrian revolution and the bias of Iran and Hizbullah to the Syrian regime, while the grassroots bases of Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood generally champion the revolution. The same applies to PA leadership which laments the ouster of some rulers, especially Hosni Mubarak who used to support it in its confrontation with Hamas.