Palestinian Reconciliation Hangs in the Balance as Hamas, Fatah Meet in Egypt

A long road lies ahead for the reconciliation deal as key issues remain unsolved and both sides accuse each other of evasion

Palestinian young men hold up their passports as they wait to cross at the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, November 20, 2017.
SAID KHATIB/AFP

Talks between Hamas and Fatah will continue in Egypt on Wednesday in an effort to reach agreement on implementing the next phases of their reconciliation deal.

The talks, which are being brokered by Egyptian intelligence, opened Tuesday at an Egyptian intelligence facility. Along with Hamas and Fatah, the smaller Palestinian parties also sent representatives.

Fatah’s delegation was headed by Azzam al-Ahmad. Hamas’ delegation was led by the deputy head of its political bureau, Saleh al-Arouri, and its leader in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar.

The Egyptians managed to prevent any leaks from the meeting, so it remains unclear whether the parties will actually be able to reach agreements on the main issues: Establishing a unity government, convening the Palestinian National Council and holding general elections. The parties are expected to issue a joint statement on Wednesday evening Cairo time.

Senior officials from both Fatah and Hamas said that, at least on a declarative level, all parties are committed to the reconciliation. Nevertheless, many obstacles must still be overcome.

Shortly before the talks began, a senior Fatah official told Haaretz that despite Hamas’ talk of being committed to the reconciliation – which calls for the Palestinian Authority to resume authority in Gaza – Hamas still controls the territory in practice. Not only are Hamas’ forces effectively in charge of security, he said, but the senior officials it appointed to various government offices in Gaza still see themselves as the people in charge of civilian affairs.

One issue that hasn’t yet arisen in the reconciliation talks, he added, is a dispute over land. Shortly before the first phase of the agreement was implemented, Hamas distributed tens of thousands of dunams of Palestinian government land in Gaza, including land where Israeli settlements once stood, to various armed militias, first and foremost its own military wing. 

The Fatah official termed this a “very significant” issue. “Almost a third of the territory went to the armed factions, and this proves that Hamas isn’t ceding substantive power,” he explained.

Hamas, for its part, accuses the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority of evading its own commitments under the reconciliation deal. It says the PA has insisted on talking only about control of the government in Gaza while avoiding issues that relate to strategic cooperation between Hamas and Fatah. These issues include integrating Hamas and other Palestinian parties into the Palestine Liberation Organization, establishing a unity government and setting a date for elections, in addition to having the Palestinian Authority lift sanctions on the Gaza Strip. 

Speaking Wednesday morning, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said the lifting of sanctions must be of the highest priority, adding that this is accepted by representatives of all of the factions. 

Majid Faraj, the head of the PA’s intelligence service, visited Gaza two days ago for talks with senior Hamas officials, including Sinwar. They agreed on a work plan for security in Gaza that will include integrating Hamas policemen into the unified security service the reconciliation is supposed to create.

Jamil Mazhar, a senior member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, who is participating in the talks, told a website identified with Hamas that Wednesday's talks are focusing on setting a timetable for the implementation of a 2011 agreement on reconciliation and would center on five issues: security; the formation of a unity government; reconciliation between clans and families who had loved ones killed in clashes in 2007 between Fatah and Hamas;  the convening of the Palestinian National Council for elections to PLO institutions; and presidential and parliamentary elections.