Saudi Arabia Backs Abbas on Dispute With Hamas Over Reconciliation Deal

Embroiled in a dispute with Hamas over control in Gaza, the Palestinian president is trying to drum up support and economic aid from the Saudis, official tells Haaretz

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Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud walks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a reception ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 7, 2017.
Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud walks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a reception ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 7, 2017.Credit: HANDOUT/REUTERS
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has received full backing from Saudi Arabia regarding his position on the reconciliation with Hamas, particularly in regard to the issue of putting all weapons under a single authority, a senior Palestinian official told Haaretz.

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The official, who is in Abbas’ inner circle, said the backing was received in regard to the dispute that erupted around implementing the reconciliation agreement. A disagreement over the issue of day-to-day security and the operation of the Palestinian security services is at the heart of the conflict, particularly as they pertain to the border crossings and the operation of the government in Gaza City.

The senior official said that in the past few days, Abbas has been trying to drum up support for his position as well as generous economic aid, to allow the government in the Gaza Strip to function and to ease the humanitarian crisis there.

“Coordinating positions with the Saudis is most vital because it means coordination with most of the Gulf States that can provide the PA with an economic safety net,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

PA officials are cautious about portraying the coordination with the Saudis as a response to new signs that Hamas is drawing closer to Hezbollah and Iran. In recent weeks, a Hamas delegation visited Tehran and senior Hamas official Saleh al-Aruri met with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. But PA officials did not deny that coordination with the Saudis provides Abbas with very critical political and economic backing. Officials close to Abbas vehemently rejected reports that the conversation with the Saudis had an overtone of a Saudi warning or threat.

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“Anyone trying to compare the Hariri affair with the Saudis and Abu Mazen’s standing is making a big mistake,” said one official, referring to the disappearance of the Lebanese prime minister after he resigned from Saudi Arabia and referring to Abbas’ nom de guerre. “The talk was about coordination, and it focused on three points. One, supporting reconciliation and the president’s position on the arms issue; two, economic assistance; and three, that any diplomatic and regional settlement will be based on the Arab peace initiative, without any change.”

Abbas visited Saudi Arabia after Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah announced that his government could not function and operate the border crossings properly unless it was fully in charge of security in the Gaza Strip. Hamas reacted harshly, seeing Hamdallah’s statement as an attempt to renegotiate the reconciliation deal.

Hamas officials stress their men left the border crossings and government offices to the PA but expect their security forces to be integrated into the PA’s force rather than fired. Hamas noted disarming itself was out of the question.

Civil Affairs Minister Hussein Al-Sheikh announced an Egyptian security delegation would visit Gaza in the coming days to advance the security issue based on the Cairo agreement. It is unclear if the PA and Egypt will open the Rafah crossing by Wednesday as planned. PA officials say they believe it will be opened in stages.

Egypt has invited the sides to a meeting on November 21 to implement the agreement further, including assembling a national unity government, holding elections and setting parameters to integrate all groups into the PLO.

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