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Still polarised

Still polarised

While Arab leaders push for Palestinian unity ahead of the Arab summit, developments on the ground continue to scupper their efforts, writes Saleh Al-Naami


It's not easy these days to be in charge of border crossings in Gaza. The closure of the Rafah border crossing, Gaza's sole gateway to the outside world, with sporadic passage every two months or so, forces the head of the crossing to spend hours meeting with people for whom travel is vital for humanitarian reasons and to study their complaints. But to what end, when he does not have the authority to solve their problems?

Ghazi Hamad, who is in charge of Rafah border crossing, spends what little free time he has contacting various parties in order to end inter-Palestinian divisions. Hamad, who seems to be the only official in the Gaza government who has remained on good terms with Fayyad's government, the Fatah movement and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas himself, diligently maintains ties with all. He is also in close contact with top officials in Egypt's intelligence service, who are in charge of reconciling Fatah and Hamas.

"Despite all the discouraging signs, we can't just sit there doing nothing," he told Al-Ahram Weekly. "We must continue to work diligently to bring the two sides closer, and come up with creative ideas that convince everyone to agree to the Egyptian plan for reconciliation. I believe there is a possibility of reaching agreement on this proposal."

Although Hamad denies he knows of any important developments in reconciliation efforts ahead of the Arab summit in Surt, Libya, the Weekly has found out that Hamas has shown flexibility regarding its reservations on the Egyptian plan. Khaled Meshaal, the head of Hamas's politburo, will visit a number of Arab countries on the eve of the summit to brief governments on these developments. Informed sources say that Hamas has cut down its reservations on the Egyptian proposal from 20 to only three.

Reportedly, Hamas is now asking that the temporary leadership committee, which will be formed to manage Palestinian affairs until elections are held for Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) institutions, should have the authority to take decisions and that Abbas will not have the power to overrule its mandate. The movement also wants Abbas to form the election committee "in lieu" with Hamas, a principle that should also be applied to the formation of the supreme security committee that will be charged with implementing a reconciliation deal.

Another demand is "restructuring" the security apparatus in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Sources tell the Weekly that Hamas believes that the delay in reaching conciliation requires the postponement of elections scheduled on 28 June, according to the Egyptian plan.

These revelations come at a time when the media is reporting that Hamas relayed a message to Cairo through US Congressman Jack Shepherd indicating more flexibility on the issue of conciliation, particularly its acceptance of a unity government. While Hamas does not deny its readiness to accept a unity government, it has denied that anyone is mediating between the group and Cairo. "We have never rejected the idea of a unity government; to the contrary, we are calling for a unity government based on a national agenda," asserted a statement of Hamas. "This is what we reached in Mecca where a unity government was formed whose platform is based on the national unity charter. But it failed because of a US veto."

Other indicators that positive developments are taking place include a meeting at the end of last week between representatives of Fatah and Hamas in Damascus for the first time since the Egyptian proposal was announced. Azzam Al-Ahmed, member of Fatah's Central Committee and head of the group's parliamentary bloc, met with a senior Hamas delegation headed by Moussa Abu Marzouq, the deputy chief of Hamas's politburo in Damascus. Al-Ahmed was keen on denying that holding the meeting in the Syrian capital in any way undermines Egypt's key mediating role.

"The meeting with the Hamas representatives aimed to encourage them to sign Cairo's reconciliation plan," he declared. "Fatah will continue its contacts with Hamas to bridge the gap and achieve Palestinian national reconciliation." Al-Ahmed added that the Damascus meeting focussed on core issues and political conditions in the region, but did not discuss Hamas's participation in municipal elections scheduled in July.

It became apparent, however, that Libya -- host of the upcoming summit -- and other Arab parties are racing against time to close Palestinian ranks ahead of the Arab summit. Salah Al-Bardawil, a leading Hamas member, revealed that Libya continues its efforts to end inter-Palestinian divisions days before the gathering. Al-Bardawil insisted, however, that Hamas would not sign the reconciliation agreement before or after the summit if its suggestions were not incorporated into the proposal.

"There are intense and continued Arab and Libyan efforts underway to achieve progress," he told the Weekly. "Libyan officials are working hard to push reconciliation forward, get the proposal signed and end internal conflicts before the summit is held at the end of the month. I believe Libya wishes to end discord ahead of the summit."

Meanwhile, the spokesman for the Ministry of Interior of the Gaza government, Ihab Al-Ghasin, announced that security forces arrested a Fatah affiliate responsible for sabotaging the government's image, instigating discord and propagating rumours in Gaza. In a statement, Al-Ghasin asserted that the affiliate group is guilty of "inventing stories and lies about figures related to the Palestinian government and Hamas in Gaza".

He continued that the "evil plan" was hatched at several secret meetings attended by members of Fatah's Media Committee, the heads of Fatah security institutions in the West Bank, and an Israeli intelligence officer who is "an expert in psychological warfare". According to the statement, the scheme aims to damage the reputation of resistance movements and the Palestinian government in Gaza, as well as camouflage that Fatah security forces in the West Bank are hunting down Palestinian resistance elements and extensively coordinating with Israel on security issues.

It appears, indeed, that the quarrel is no longer just between Hamas and Fatah, but has expanded to pit Hamas against other factions that are traditionally considered as politically close to the group, such as the Islamic Jihad. This became apparent in statements by Mahmoud Al-Zahhar, a leading member of Hamas, who recently criticised missile attacks on southern Israel because such acts serve Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Al-Zahhar told a rally of Hamas supporters gathered in southern Gaza on Sunday that missile attacks from Gaza on Israeli settlements are "suspicious acts that allow occupation forces to manipulate them for their benefit in the media, and distract attention from [Israel's] crimes in the occupied territories." He added: "the enemy will use the missile attacks as an excuse to launch another attack on Gaza to flex its muscles, and prove to the world that its aggression is based on self-defence. This, at a time when [Israel] is under strong attack for its crimes during the last war on Gaza."

Al-Zahhar rejected the idea that groups affiliated with Fatah could claim responsibility for the missile attacks, noting: "this contradicts Fatah's actions on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza, where it closely associates with occupation forces to thwart resistance." He continued that such actions give occupation forces the opportunity to divert media attention from the crimes and conspiracies taking place in Jerusalem, and enforces the Quartet's position."

The Hamas leader added that some factions launch missiles without warheads just to capture the attention of the media, and that the government in Gaza is investigating the attacks, though it already knows the reasons behind them.

In response to these statements, Al-Zahhar was strongly censured by Islamic Jihad, which stressed the Palestinian people's right resist by all means possible. "Resistance is the right and duty of every Palestinian," retorted Dawoud Shehab, Islamic Jihad spokesman. "No one can challenge that in any way; all forms of resistance are acceptable. The resistance will not be swayed by a statement here or there to reconsider its methods."

Shehab directly chastised Al-Zahhar, saying: "Making statements that condemn the resistance are suspect, impotent and farcical. These are bizarre and obnoxious statements, especially that they come at harsh times for our people who are in a daily fierce confrontation with occupation. In the case of the Palestinians, resistance is the only means."

Such is the complicated and glum reality of Palestinians ahead of the Arab summit. Every time it appears that resolution is near, developments prove that this optimism is a delusion. Palestinian society is polarised, which means that any possibility of ending divisions is called into question. Meanwhile, ordinary Palestinians are paying a high price for this unprecedented low in internal Palestinian affairs.

The link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2010/991/re13.htm

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