Analysis

Palestinian Factions Negotiate Unity in Egypt but Leave Hard Questions at the Door

Hamas and Fatah begin reconciliation talks on Tuesday in Cairo. Both parties are determined not to return to decades-old divisions, but talks expected to focus on the situation in Gaza, and not on Israel

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah (R) and Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh hold hands in Gaza City October 2, 2017.
IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA/REUTERS

The reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas begin in Cairo on Tuesday under the auspices of Egyptian intelligence, a week after the ceremonial cabinet meeting in Gaza in which both groups took part, again with Egyptian intelligence chiefs on hand.

The Hamas and Fatah leaders arrived Monday evening in Cairo. Senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri will be heading his side’s delegation, with his team including Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and Moussa Abu Marzouk, who led the group’s representation during reconciliation talks in the past.

Hamas ensured that the delegation would have one representative from the Strip and one from the diaspora, to show a united front, while Arouri and Sinwar are also part of the security apparatus. Hamas continues to maintain that the group seeks a true reconciliation, not a return to the decades-old divisions.

The Fatah delegation includes central committee member Azzam al-Ahmad, who is responsible for the movement’s reconciliation portfolio, as well as the minister for civilian affairs, Hussein al-Sheikh. Also on board are other members of the central committee, in addition to Majid Faraj, head of Palestinian security and a close associate of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinians stress that the presence of Faraj and Sinwar is very important for advancing the talks and implementing the decisions in the field.

As Haaretz reported last week, the negotiations aren’t starting from scratch but will be based on the 2011 Cairo agreement. Both organizations agree that the changes in the region since then mean that amendments and new agreements are needed, but not a reopening of all the agreement’s clauses.

Fatah spokesman Osama Qawasmeh told Voice of Palestine radio that three days have been allotted to the talks but the timetable is flexible and will depend on the progress. The main objective of the first stage is to focus on the full functioning of the Palestinian government in Gaza, both from the civilian and administrative perspective, as well as security issues including the border crossings.

Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub told Haaretz that both sides seek a true partnership both in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, one based on the Palestine Liberation Organization and various international resolutions and decisions including the Arab Peace Initiative.

“The aim is to reach agreements on everything, including how to resist the occupation and implementing this resistance,” Rajoub said. “From our perspective, we will work toward implementing a model of nonviolent, popular struggle against the occupation.”

As an Egyptian official close to the intelligence community told Haaretz, “During the first stage the parties won’t deal with strategic issues like Hamas’ military arm or the diplomatic process, but will focus on civilian issues and managing Gaza’s issues so as to stabilize the situation there and then go into the tougher issues.”

According to that source, the Egyptians won’t let the process fail at such an early and critical stage because of the implications for the region. Also, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi is personally involved in the process.

Sissi, who met Sunday with his National Security Council, including his intelligence chiefs, reportedly said: “The Egyptian effort toward domestic Palestinian reconciliation constitutes a first step that prepares the ground for peace between the Palestinians and Israel.” In Egypt, some observers are taking things one step further, stressing that Sissi’s words are linked to the overall “regional deal” that U.S. President Donald Trump has been talking about.

Still, despite the optimism and the pressure from both the people and the Egyptians to make progress on a reconciliation deal, the Palestinians realize that at some point they have to move beyond the administrative and security issues and present a strategy for where the Palestinians want to go. Both Fatah and Hamas have adopted opposing approaches of the past quarter-century, neither of which has led to independence and self-determination for the Palestinian people.

Fatah, with Oslo and direct talks with Israel, isn’t getting any closer to its declared goals despite ostensible international support. The United States’ gamble on being a sponsor has failed and the international community isn’t hurrying to adopt the Palestinian narrative.

Hamas, with its strategy of armed struggle, hasn’t even managed to ease the blockade on Gaza, get a seaport or airport, or gain a foothold in the West Bank. The group also realizes that the era of an agenda that squares with winning the support of the Muslim Brotherhood and its patrons has been an utter failure.

Yet addressing domestic power struggles and day-to-day issues will at some point have to yield a clear answer to the people who are seeking freedom and self-determination.