Palestinian reconciliation / Poor Egypt-Hamas relations set the tone
'Mutual abhorrence' is probably the most accurate term for relations between Hamas and Egypt.
After more than six months in which Hamas has refused to sign an Egyptian-drafted reconciliation agreement with Fatah, Cairo is tired of being dragged hither and yon by the organization's caprices.
Hamas, for its part, sees Egypt as a hostile party that supports Fatah and is not an honest broker. Egypt, which has yet to fully open its Rafah border crossing with Gaza, has told Hamas it will be opened only when "the occupation ends," while Hamas says that unless the crossing opens, it will not sign the document.
This fight has gone on for months, with the question of a deal over kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit caught in the middle. Hamas periodically declares that Shalit's release depends not only on Israel freeing prisoners, but also on the opening of the border crossings and the lifting of the blockade. This condition is apparently designed to force Egypt to change the reconciliation agreement to give Hamas a better chance not only of retaining power in Gaza, but of gaining it in the PLO.
The dispute engendered a clash over the past two weeks between Mahmoud Zahar, considered the head of the pragmatic faction in Gaza, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit. In an interview with the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, Zahar spoke condescendingly of Aboul Gheit, saying "it is known that the Palestinian issue is not in the hands of the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, but in the hands of [Egyptian] intelligence. If the Egyptian government wants us to sit with the Foreign Ministry, it should come and tell us."
This led Foreign Ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki to publicly retort that "Zahar is not even a leader of the Gaza Strip. His status is no different than that of anyone there, as the decisions are made by Hamas' leadership in exile."
"Zahar thinks things in Egypt are run as if it were an organization rather than a state," Zaki added. He also accused Hamas of trying to entangle Egypt in a "blame game over the delay in the reconciliation process. Hamas has been responsible for this since the end of last year."
Zahar hastened to deny his comments about the Egyptian foreign minister in the official Egyptian daily Al-Ahram, saying the rival paper had twisted his words.
Al-Masry Al-Youm then posted the tape of Zahar's interview on its Internet site so the public could decide for itself.
It is clear to Hamas as well to Egypt that it has no alternative to reconciliation with Fatah, as without this, Hamas will not be able to translate its recent achievements against Israel into political gains - and the easing of the blockade reduces the likelihood of more flotillas.
A prisoner exchange with Israel could give Hamas the next big achievement it seeks. But for now, it appears that the shaky relations between Hamas and Egypt are dictating the pace.