Awaiting a miracle
The Palestinian political rift remains un-bridged, with the people suffering the consequences of their leaders' failures, writes Saleh Al-Naami
Recently, Hamas submitted several requests to the Egyptian authorities to allow a number of its leaders to leave Gaza via the Rafah border crossing. Cairo's response was to ignore Hamas, one source in the group told Al-Ahram Weekly. According to him, Hamas asked permission for Mahmoud Al-Zahhar and Khalil Al-Hayya, members of the group's politburo, to leave Gaza via Rafah to meet with Hamas leaders in Damascus and visit other Arab destinations. The Egyptians allegedly paid no attention to the requests.
Applications to allow other leading Hamas figures to travel were also ignored, added the source, who believes that neglecting the requests for Al-Zahhar and Al-Hayya to travel, especially, is indicative of Egypt's attitude vis-à-vis Palestinian reconciliation. Al-Zahhar and Al-Hayya are known to be lobbying for the group to sign the Egyptian reconciliation proposal. If Cairo was interested in sealing the deal, it should presumably have worked on supporting them, rather than undermining their efforts.
The source added that Egyptian security forces also turned away 900 travellers in Gaza at Rafah when the crossing was reopened last week. Leading Hamas figures decided to accept Egypt's decision to deny travel to prominent figures in the group, stated the source, keeping open direct channels of communication between the group's leaders and Egyptian intelligence circles.
Meanwhile, Fatah and Hamas representatives continue to debate Egypt's role in the reconciliation process amidst accusations by Hamas that Cairo is taking a hostile position against the group and is biased towards Fatah -- claims that anger Fatah.
Faisal Abu Shahla, a Fatah leader and chairman of parliament's Oversight Committee, rejects Hamas's accusations against Egypt, saying that Hamas leaders tend to sabotage Egypt's image and role by undermining it and portraying Cairo as unfair and antagonistic towards the Palestinian people. "Egypt's historic role and weight puts it above stooping to this sort of behaviour," Abu Shahla told the Weekly. "Hamas is the one refusing to meet the requirements of national reconciliation, and accordingly is critical of the Egyptian mediator in an inappropriate manner."
Hamas should test Egypt and Fatah's sincerity by signing the proposal and finding out that it is "the ideal formula" for national reconciliation, without linking the position of either party to that of Israel or the US, according to Abu Shahla. He restated that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas clearly told the Fatah Revolutionary Council that all of Hamas's reservations about the Egyptian plan would be looked into. Abbas also said that he would meet with the head of Hamas's politburo, Khaled Meshaal, as soon as the proposal is signed.
Abu Shahla continued that Hamas's reservations about the plan are illogical. For example, wanting to reform the composition of the Central Elections Committee and not making it linked to the president. Abu Shahla noted that the current committee oversaw the recent elections where Hamas won by a landslide, causing Hamas's leaders to praise its integrity. According to him, many Hamas leaders believe the Egyptian proposal is the best solution to achieve reconciliation, and warn against a diminished Egyptian role in the Palestinian cause because of Hamas's immature actions.
It is clear that tensions between Hamas and Cairo have a direct impact on the chances of achieving national reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Yehia Moussa, deputy leader of the Hamas bloc in parliament, asserted that closing Palestinian ranks is no longer a priority for Egypt, which explains Cairo's attitude towards Hamas in recent months. "It is extremely unfortunate that Egypt's position is linked to Israel and the US's refusal of achieving Palestinian reconciliation, because Tel Aviv and Washington believe any appeasement will be a victory for Hamas," argued Moussa. "This has resulted in a less friendly attitude in Cairo, making Hamas an enemy, which is contrary to reality."
Moussa told the Weekly that relations between Egypt and Hamas took a wrong turn after a visit by US Special Envoy George Mitchell to Cairo a few months ago when he informed officials there of Washington's absolute opposition to achieving reconciliation amongst the Palestinians. "Otherwise, why does Egypt insist on linking reconciliation with the requirements of the Quartet, namely that Hamas recognises Israel, rejects resistance against occupation as a form of terrorism, and recognises the agreements signed between the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Israel?" he wondered. "What have these preconditions got to do with reconciliation? Egypt knows Hamas cannot agree to these terms. If it did, there would be no siege and Egypt would not have shunned the group in this way."
Moussa believes the Egyptians are doing their utmost to block any possibility of reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah through any other Arab parties who seem interested in mediating the rift. He called on the Palestinians to retake the reins of reconciliation and reach agreement amongst themselves, to end this "diseased internal state". Once that is achieved, Egypt and other Arab parties can be invited into the process.
Some Palestinian observers believe that Cairo is intent on isolating Hamas, citing contacts between Egypt and the Islamic Jihad to resolve the issue of Jihad detainees in Egyptian jails. These observations were confirmed by Khedr Habib, a leading figure in the Islamic Jihad, who announced that a delegation from his group headed by Nafez Azzam met with Egyptian officials to end the crisis. A Palestinian source told the Weekly that Fatah had played a mediating role between the two sides to resolve the issue of the detainees.
An indication of Jihad's evolving position towards Egypt is found on recent statements by the movement's secretary-general, Abdullah Shallah, who had previously accused Cairo of arresting Jihad members upon their return from medical visits and harshly torturing them. Speaking to the group's official website, Palestine Today, Shallah was less critical of Egypt, denying any tensions between the group and Cairo, "but rather, a specific team within the Egyptian administration."
Nonetheless, he noted that some Jihad members were tortured during 50 days of incarceration in Egyptian jails, and that there are 18 Jihad members still in detention. In response to accusations that Iran is playing a role in aggravating relations between the Egyptians and Palestinians, Shallah retorted: "Injecting Iran in every conversation about Palestine is a broken record that is no longer credible. The current quarrel with Egypt is about the detainees and torturing our brothers in Egyptian jails. If they are released, the problem will end, and there's no need to bring Iran or anyone else into the discussion."
Meanwhile, informed sources in Fatah tell the Weekly that Abbas is facing pressure from Fatah leaders to immediately launch a serious dialogue with Hamas and not lend too much weight to indirect talks with Israel. Apparently, members of the group's Central Committee and Revolutionary Council lobbied Abbas in a recent meeting to reach an agreement and end divisions because Hamas is now ready to reconcile. They warned that a real crisis awaits Fatah if indirect negotiations fail, and urged Abbas not to link reconciliation with any other issues.
Among those lobbying Abbas are Jibreel Al-Rajoub and Azzam Al-Ahmed, but several members of the Central Committee, including Mohamed Dahlan, Tawfiq Al-Tirawi and Hussein Al-Sheikh, oppose them. The source added that some Fatah leaders have suggested holding meetings with Hamas without Abbas's permission, similar to that which recently took place in Nablus between Fatah leaders headed by Al-Ahmed and their counterparts in Hamas led by former deputy prime minister and Minister of Education Nassereddin Al-Shaer. However, according to the source, the majority in Fatah's leadership circles are leaning towards taking a firmer stand on Hamas.
The link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2010/1000/re9.htm