The Unlikely Broker Between Hamas and Egypt: Islamic Jihad

Delegation of senior Islamic Jihad officials arrives in Cairo in an attempt to reduce tensions between the sides and reach a compromise that would allow the opening of Rafah Crossing.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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A Palestinian security officer stands guard while an Egyptian soldier (background) mans a watch tower on the Egyptian side, at the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip October 26, 2014.
A Palestinian security officer stands guard while an Egyptian soldier (background) mans a watch tower on the Egyptian side, at the Rafah border crossing in the southern Gaza Strip October 26, 2014.Credit: AFP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

A delegation of senior Islamic Jihad officials arrived in Cairo overnight Saturday in an effort to advance compromise suggestions that would allow the border crossing between Egypt and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip at Rafah to be reopened and for an easing of tensions between Cairo and Hamas.

Palestinian websites have reported that the delegation, which includes Islamic Jihad secretary general Ramadan Shalah and his deputy, Ziad al-Nakhaleh, are to meet with senior Egyptians, most of whom are from Egypt’s security and intelligence services. Nakhaleh said the meeting, which had not been scheduled in advance, was part of an effort by all the Palestinian factions to reach an agreement regarding the Rafah crossing, which in turn would pave the way for the rehabilitation of the territory after last summer’s war. He said a number of proposals will be put on the table regarding the border crossing.

It should be noted that relations between Islamic Jihad and Egypt improved for the most part following last summer’s fighting, as well as during the war, due to the flexibility that the organization’s representatives demonstrated over indirect talks with Israel on a cease-fire.

Egypt is conditioning agreement on an arrangement at the Rafah crossing on the resumption of control of the crossing on the Palestinian side by the Palestinian Authority. The PA lost control of the entire Gaza Strip in 2007, when it was ousted by Hamas.

For its part, Hamas is insisting that its people, particularly from its security forces, remain in place as part of the PA presence at the border.

Islamic Jihad’s proposals are also to be presented to senior Hamas representatives, including senior official Moussa Abu Marzouk, in an effort advance a formula that all sides will accept, Nakhaleh said.

It has also been learned that Mahmoud al-Habash, an adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, is holding discussions in Cairo regarding reopening the Rafah crossing as well as arrangements that would enable Muslim pilgrims from Gaza to travel to Mecca in Saudi Arabia via Egypt, and to facilitate the passage of university students through the crossing.

The controversy over control of the crossings in the Gaza Strip has intensified recently following criticism from Palestinian factions, notably the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, that claim that Hamas’ insistence on controlling the crossings is preventing the rehabilitation of the territory. One senior Popular Front official, Jamil Majdalani, even came out publicly against Hamas and demanded that steps be taken to remove obstacles preventing the PA’s return to the crossing points, particularly at Rafah.

For their part, Hamas officials said the issue did not involve control of the crossing by Hamas but rather that the PA wants to dismiss the clerks and police that Hamas has appointed in the Gaza Strip since 2007, something that Hamas will not consent to. After Hamas took control of the strip, it hired more than 40,000 bureaucrats of various kinds, but the PA does not recognize those appointments. That in turn created duplication involving tens of thousands of jobs, with the PA paying staff on its payroll and Hamas its own separate staff.

Following the establishment of a government of reconciliation between the two, cabinet-level Hamas officials resigned but lower-level Hamas staff continue to report to work in the strip. The PA says that in practice, the Hamas appointees continue to control government offices.

Despite the lengthy negotiations and meetings by committees and subcommittees established as part of the reconciliation agreement, the two sides seem unable to overcome their differences. In the process, about two million people in the Gaza Strip are stuck in the middle, with little prospect of a resolution.

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