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Reconciliation in limbo

Reconciliation in limbo

Saleh Al-Naami finds out that Hamas and Fatah are still deeply at odds


On Sunday afternoon, Al-Amal district, west of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, was rife with commotion. It was rumoured that Fatah representative Mohamed Dahlan, who lives in the West Bank town of Ramallah, would soon be in town to take part in the funeral of his mother, who had passed away earlier that day. The Hamas government of Ismail Haniyeh said it would allow Dahlan to enter the Gaza Strip for the funeral since this was a personal matter. In the end, Dahlan did not go to Gaza and chose to receive condolences in Ramallah. Fatah spokespeople explained that Dahlan was not going to ask Haniyeh's government for permission to enter Gaza since this is his innate right, like any other Palestinian.

While Dahlan's mother has now been buried, the continued controversy over what occurred is indicative of the deep differences between the two Palestinian political movements. Reporters were swamped with news releases from both sides on this issue, which occurred at a time when more Arab players are becoming involved in mediation efforts between Fatah and Hamas. In fact, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Mohamed Al-Sabah unexpectedly announced Sunday that a meeting between President Mahmoud Abbas and the head of Hamas's Political Bureau, Khaled Meshaal, would take place within 10 days.

This claim was vehemently denied by both groups. A leading member of Hamas told Al-Ahram Weekly that after consultations with leaders of the group inside and outside the territories, it appears that no such meeting is scheduled. He noted that neither party has changed its position in a way that would allow such an encounter to take place. According to this source, the main obstacle to progress in reconciliation efforts is differences over the Egyptian proposal. His group refuses to sign the agreement as it stands without revisions, while Egypt and Fatah refuse to revise any of the content.

The source added that the Kuwaiti government offered to mediate between the two sides, and top Kuwaiti officials recently met with a delegation from Hamas in the Gulf state to discuss the prerequisites for re-launching dialogue and ending internal divisions. But no specific agreement was reached on any particular issue. The Hamas source added that all Arab parties willing to mediate insist that they are working within the Egyptian framework, and not as an alternative to it.

Fatah also denied an imminent meeting between Abbas and Meshaal, saying that such an encounter would only be possible once Hamas agrees to the Egyptian proposal without preconditions. Azzam Al-Ahmed, a member of the group's Central Committee and leader of its parliamentary bloc, stressed that any meetings between Abbas and Hamas leaders is contingent on Hamas signing on to the Egyptian ideas, which Fatah has already done. "We are waiting for Hamas to sign any time it is ready," stated Al-Ahmed. "Within one hour, half an hour, even 15 minutes, there will be a meeting with them. Otherwise, this will never take place." He also placed a condition that Hamas must go to Egypt to sign the agreement.

Al-Ahmed accused Hamas of "evading conciliation in the hope of maintaining Palestinian divisions", and insisted that Egypt has sole authority to mediate between the two groups. He added that despite the death of Egyptian soldier Ahmed Shaaban during clashes on the border between Egypt and Gaza two weeks ago, Cairo has not notified the Palestinian factions that it will freeze its mediation efforts. "Egypt is and will remain the sponsor of inter- Palestinian dialogue," he stated, noting that a recent tour of Arab states by a Hamas delegation is unrelated to reconciliation efforts.

"They aimed to improve their image in Arab capitals in light of their connection with the Iranian project," asserted Al-Ahmed, adding that in most Gulf States, except for Qatar, Hamas's reputation is "tarnished because of its proximity to Tehran".

Nonetheless, there are some Palestinians who believe that the Arab summit in Libya next March will be beneficial. Among them is the leader of the Palestinian bloc of independents who headed their delegation to the dialogue in Cairo, Yasser Al-Wadeya, who insists that the summit will push forward Palestinian reconciliation as mediated by Egypt.

"The high volume of visits to regional and Gulf capitals, along with recent trips by Abbas and Meshaal, indicate that the upcoming Arab summit will be decisive regarding the future of mediation efforts," Al-Wadeya told the Weekly.

Al-Wadeya believes Arab leaders will be faced with the real challenge of closing the gap among Palestinian factions. Ending division, he asserted, is one of the basic requirements of Arab national security. Al-Wadeya urged Palestinian factions to be responsive to Arab efforts to achieve reconciliation under the auspices of Egypt, which was given carte blanche by Arab countries for this endeavour. "The Arab region is at the threshold of reconciliation," he opined. "This is certain to reflect positively on the Palestinian cause, including the issue of reconciliation that has become a serious source of concern for ordinary Palestinians."

The question now is whether progress is actually possible on the dialogue track, in light of unprecedented and severe tensions between Cairo and Hamas. An informed Hamas source told the Weekly that intense efforts are underway to mend relations between the two sides after it was revealed that Egypt is building a steel wall along the border with Gaza. Protests have rendered tens of Palestinians wounded and one Egyptian dead.

The source divulged that contacts have already been made between top Egyptian intelligence officials and chief Hamas members and the Hamas government with the aim of arriving at a set of ground rules that would minimise border clashes in the future. The source added that despite the wrangling, Egypt continues to permit Hamas leaders to travel to Damascus for consultations with the group's leadership there. According to the source, there is a deep sense on both sides that their relationship is not at a dead end, and that a solution is still possible.

Gaza Prime Minister Haniyeh described current tensions in relations with Egypt as "unnatural" and told journalists that "the natural state is a stable relationship because Egypt has strategic, historical and heritage value." He added that the Gaza Strip never posed a threat to Egypt's security because it is the northern gate of the country, and the frontline to defend Egypt's national security. Haniyeh described border clashes as unjustifiable, despite the fact that they were fuelled by "boiling tensions and public anger over the siege and the wall".

"We regard both Palestinian and Egyptian blood as sacred to us," he asserted. "We do not turn our backs on one drop of Arab or Muslim blood." Haniyeh noted that an extensive investigation of the border events is underway by authorities in Gaza, and promised that the outcome would be presented to the Palestinian public and the Egyptian government. Haniyeh believes that 2010 will be the year of national reconciliation, "because it is the strategic choice and a national requisite." He added: "Division is the exception and does not represent the Palestinian reality, which is based on one land and one people, and theoretically one political system."

Haniyeh insisted that, "We aim to achieve reconciliation and are serious about it," noting that a decision to reconcile has been made and will not be reversed because it is a national obligation.

Asked about the possibility of another Arab party participating in mediation efforts, Haniyeh indicated that, "since Egypt is acting according to the will of the Arab nations, the more the Arabs embrace the process, this would surely bring reconciliation closer to becoming a reality." He hoped that talks between Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Syria would advance the reconciliation process and suggested the formation of a Saudi-Egyptian-Syrian-Turkish bloc to confront Israel and to draw on Iran's capabilities in this endeavour. Haniyeh asserted that such an alliance would end Israel's hostile posture, and criticised attempts to "create animosities in the region other than with the Israeli enemy."

Haniyeh believes that in light of many failed attempts to reach a settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict, a Palestinian-Arab strategy must be drawn up to help regain the initiative and to confront Israel.

The link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2010/982/re4.htm

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