Egypt, Syria Increase Pressure on Hamas to Seal Agreement With Fatah

Palestinian unity plan could pressure Israel to open border crossings and advance talks on Gilad Shalit.

Egypt and Syria have upped their pressure on Hamas in recent days, in support of a reconciliation agreement with Fatah. The deal would include a multinational Arab force in the Gaza Strip that would operate in parallel to joint Fatah-Hamas security forces.

An Egyptian source told Haaretz that the American administration is aware of the plan's details and apparently special envoy George Mitchell has asked the Damascus government to use its influence over Hamas to push the plan and the Quartet conditions. The Americans promised the Syrians that if they take on a positive role in the Palestinian channel, the U.S. would act to resume negotiations in the Syrian track.

The Hamas-Fatah reconciliation plan includes the creation of a joint dozen-member committee, to be under Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' indirect authority. The committee, only authorized to act in Gaza, would be in charge of post-Operation Cast Lead reconstruction, government reforms, and preparations for the January 2010 presidential and legislative council elections. All factions would undertake to honor the election results and allow the elected government to rule in both Gaza and the West Bank.

Military forces from Egypt, the Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and other Arab countries would assist local forces in maintaining order until and throughout those elections. The plan is expected to increase pressure on Israel to open border crossings and to push a deal for the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit forward. The Egyptian source noted that Hamas had not deviated from its position regarding the number and identity of prisoners to be released in exchange for Shalit.

According to the source, the main obstacle to the plan is the refusal of Hamas' leadership to accept Abbas' authority. However, Egypt did announce a July 7 deadline for the deal. Former U.S. president Jimmy Carter, who met last week in Damascus with Hamas political leader Khaled Meshal, told Haaretz he believes Meshal is very interested in reaching a deal before the deadline.

As part of the feverish activity to reach an agreement, Meshal met last week in Cairo with Egyptian intelligence head Gen. Omar Suleiman. A senior Fatah delegation also visited Cairo a few days ago.

Since U.S. President Barack Obama's Cairo speech earlier this month, Hamas has seemed more distressed and shown signs of a willingness for greater flexibility. Meshal praised Obama's speech, saying that Hamas would not constitute an obstacle to talks.

By contrast, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's speech on Sunday met with derogatory responses from Hamas. The organization's Gaza spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, said the speech expressed "extreme and racist" ideology and offered no new policy.