Egypt Proposes pan-Arab Force for Gaza Strip

Hamas, Fatah unity talks to resume; Egypt threatens to stop mediation unless deal reached by July 7.

Another round of talks between Fatah and Hamas representatives will begin in Cairo on Sunday, where Egyptian mediators are trying to convince the two sides to enter a reconciliation agreement that will lead to a Palestinian unity government. The talks are scheduled to last a week.

Egypt has been pushing for the agreement to be ready for signing by July 7, but have warned that if these fail it does not intend to press on with its mediation efforts. The Egyptian efforts are being coordinated by General Omar Suleiman and his deputy, Muhammad Ibrahim. Fatah is represented by Ahmed Qureia (Abu Alaa), and Hamas by the deputy of the group's politburo, Musa Abu Marzouk.

According to the Egyptian proposal, Palestinian elections would be held in January 2010, with 75 percent of the members of parliament being elected on a party basis, and the rest by constituency. This is a formula that tends to favor Fatah. One possible result of reconciliation is Hamas agreeing to relinquish some of its control over the Gaza Strip and pave the way for a broader ceasefire agreement with Egypt, a lifting of the siege, and the establishment of a committee under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that would administer the territory.

A recent development has been that Egypt put forth a detailed proposal for the involvement of military and security experts from Egypt and other Arab countries in the security force that would control the Gaza Strip. Egyptian and Palestinian sources have said that a total of 180 Arab security experts would oversee the joint Palestinian security force comprising Fatah and Hamas troops. The proposal is part of an overall plan being put before the Palestinians, but also presented to Israel, which seeks to both resolve the internal, domestic Palestinian rift and deal with the thorny issue of a besieged Gaza Strip.

The proposal also calls for the immediate opening of the Rafah crossing, linking Sinai with the Strip, and the crossings with Israel, in return for the establishment of a long-term ceasefire, a tahadiyeh. The Rafah crossing would be operated according to agreements signed between Israel and the PA under the aegis of the Quartet in 2005, and European monitors would oversee the proper functioning of the crossing.

The Egyptian reconciliation plan calls for the establishment of a Gaza Administration Committee, which would represent all Palestinian factions. The committee would comprise 27 members: 12 from Hamas, 10 from Fatah and the rest from other factions. The Islamic Jihad organization has already rejected this proposal.

Such a committee would answer to Abbas and not to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and its tenure would end with the January 2010 elections.

In addition to the continuing recriminations between Hamas and Fatah over arrests of members of the Islamic group in the West Bank by Palestinian Authority security forces, it is also unclear whether Syria favors the reconciliation talks. Palestinian sources have said that the recent American announcement of restoring full diplomatic ties with Syria and returning its ambassador to Damascus is likely to convince the Syrians to pressure Hamas to agree to the Egyptian proposal.