In Subtle Message to Egypt, Palestinian Factions Hold Reconciliation Talks in Turkey

Fatah and Hamas meet in Istanbul, hoping to pave the way for a united Palestinian front against normalization - but no major steps are expected before the U.S. elections

Jack Khoury
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Palestinians carry the Hamas (bottom) and Fatah (C) flags to celebrate a unity deal between the two factions, in the West Bank village of Bilin, May 6, 2011.
Palestinians carry the Hamas (bottom) and Fatah (C) flags to celebrate a unity deal between the two factions, in the West Bank village of Bilin, May 6, 2011.Credit: AFP
Jack Khoury

With the Abraham Peace Accords only a week old, the Palestinians are now working hard to forge reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, this time under the auspices of Turkey.

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On Tuesday morning, Khalil al-Hayya, the deputy head of Hamas’ political bureau in Gaza, confirmed reports that delegations from the embittered rival factions met on Tuesday in Istanbul to continue discussing the end of the split between their two organizations.They will also meet on Wednesday. 

The Fatah delegation is headed by Jibril Rajoub, the secretary general of the organization’s central committee, along with central committee member Rawhi Fattouh. Hamas is represented by Saleh al-Arouri, the deputy head of the group’s political bureau and bureau member Husam Badran, according to Palestinian sources.

Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub (R), in the West Bank city of Ramallah, attends by video conference a meeting with deputy Hamas chief Saleh al-Arouri (on screen from Beirut), July 2, 2020.
Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, attends by video conference a meeting with deputy Hamas chief Saleh al-Arouri (on screen from Beirut), July 2, 2020.Credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS

Fatah and Hamas officials say the talks have focused on formulating a cooperation framework, which should lead to a joint announcement of a date for presidential and parliamentary elections. It is also expected to relate to the creation of joint committees that will design policy on strategic and security issues, including relations with Israel.

A Hamas official told Haaretz that although agreements and understandings over reconciliation have been reached in the last ten years, implementation has always been a major hurdle, due to a lack of incentive for either party to give up their legitimacy to rule. Both Fatah and Hamas agree that a concerted plan of action is impossible as long as the split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip continues, he adds.

Fatah activists in the West Bank also agree with this assessment: “We hear the heads of the [Palestinian] Authority and Hamas talking about the need for uniting the ranks in the popular struggle and for the establishment of a joint leadership, but the public’s response has been mostly apathy or calls such as send your children to the streets, not our children,” a veteran activist told Haaretz.

According to those knowledgable about the details, both organizations are trying to advance an interim phase in which the parties would first focus only on holding the elections, and thereafter, on establishing a joint government that would resolve all the issues on the table in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. They want to avoid the mistakes of the past, and this time around, sidestep contentious issues, such as the management of government ministries and the security forces.

A message to Egypt?

Some commentators see a strategic message in the fact that the meetings are held in Turkey and not in Cairo, which normally hosts Palestinian reconciliation talks, although both factions seem wary of criticizing the Egyptian leadership explicitly at this stage.

According to the Palestinian news agency Wafa, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke on the phone on Monday evening. Abbas asked that Turkey take part in the international delegation that will supervise the elections when they are held in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

"History will glorify all but those faithful to Palestine and its cause." Palestinians protest the UAE's and Bahrain's decisions to normalize relations with Israel, Nablus, September 15, 2020.
"History will glorify all but those faithful to Palestine and its cause." Palestinians protest the UAE's and Bahrain's decisions to normalize relations with Israel, Nablus, September 15, 2020.Credit: JAAFAR ASHTIYEH - AFP

The Palestinians are also distancing themselves from the Arab League, in response to what they see as the multilateral organization’s failure to actively condemn moves towards normalization between its members and Israel. The Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Malki announced on Tuesday morning that the PA gave up the rotating presidency of the organization.

The move is mostly technical, and Malki was quick to assure that the Palestinians had no intention of leaving the Arab League, of which they have been a member since 1967. “We have no intention of creating a vacuum,” he said. Still, it acts as a sort of vote of no-confidence.

On Friday, Abbas is expected to address the United Nations’ General Assembly to present the Palestinian position, the Palestinian UN Ambassador tweeted on Tuesday. A Palestinian official told Haaretz that the leadership is conducting talks with many countries, including in the Arab and Islamic world, to block more moves similar to those taken by Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. But no exceptional Palestinian steps are to be expected, including in relations with Israel, until the U.S. presidential elections: “There is a sort of period of damage control, as we wait for November 3,” said the official.

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