The news from the Rafah border crossing earlier this week astounded the leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah. They had arranged with Israel to allow some 2,000 Palestinians from Gaza to go to Saudi Arabia via the Kerem Shalom and Allenby Bridge border crossings for the hajj celebrations.
But Cairo apparently had different plans. The Egyptians allowed 700 Palestinians on Monday and 1,300 on Tuesday to cross the border into Sinai, where buses were waiting to take them to Saudi Arabia.
"The Egyptians stabbed us in the back," a senior PA official said. It turned out that the move had been coordinated with the Hamas government and Saudi Arabia. The Saudi embassy in Cairo swiftly processed the Gaza pilgrims' visa applications sent by the Hamas government, while the Saudi embassy in Amman held up all the visa applications sent by the PA, even those of West Bank pilgrims.
The PA, which had invested huge efforts in organizing the pilgrims' trip to Saudi Arabia in a bid to improve President Mahmoud Abbas' status in the Gaza Strip, was enraged by Egypt and Saudi Arabia's conduct. The PA official in charge of civil coordination, Hussein al-Sheikh, had told the people in Gaza that the visas Hamas would issue for traveling to Saudi Arabia would be invalid. PA officials managed to reach an agreement with the Israeli authorities on taking some 2,000 people out of Gaza and transferring them through Israel - an unprecedented understanding in Hamas-era Gaza.
Ismail Haniyeh's government, however, had assured Gaza Strip residents all along that the pilgrims would leave via the Rafah crossing in coordination with Egypt. In other words, this was a planned move.
PA officials have difficulty understanding why Egypt and Saudi Arabia acted against Abbas' interests in this way. Only a week earlier Abbas met Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Now they assume that Cairo and Riyadh wanted to protest Abbas' persistent refusal to resume the dialogue with Hamas. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have recently given Abbas hints that he should resume the talks, but a senior Palestinian official said that "all told it's a continuation of the Egyptian game and the dual policy regarding Hamas."
Indeed, it seems that despite Egypt's repeated assertions of its uncompromising war on Hamas and Gaza terror organizations, Cairo and especially Egyptian intelligence officials prefer to keep normal relations with Hamas, even at Abbas' expense.
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