Reconciliation talks between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas officially opened in Cairo on Tuesday. The prevailing impression amongst Israeli defense officials' is that despite the significant effort Egypt is investing in mediating the talks, there are still significant obstacles on the road to an agreement.
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The key question relates to the future of Hamas’ weapons in the Gaza Strip. At the moment, Hamas has adamantly rejected the PA’s demand that its military wing and its weapons be subordinated to the Palestinian security services in Ramallah.
Israeli officials believe the Palestinian parties may ultimately agree only on a limited reconciliation that will address each of the two problems that most bother each side. Hamas would agree to dismantle the administrative committee it had established in Gaza about a year ago.
Establishing that committee banished the last symbolic remnant of the PA’s presence in Gaza, even though in practice, the Hamas government has been running Gaza for the past decade, ever since it expelled Fatah’s armed forces in June 2007.
In exchange, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would cancel the sanctions he imposed on Gaza this past spring – slashing salaries for PA employees and cutting the electricity supply. These sanctions made Gazans’ lives even more miserable.
Regardless of whether the reconciliation ends up being a minor or a major one, official Israel has already made its position clear, through blunt attacks on the negotiations by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman earlier this month.
For Netanyahu, the separation between the West Bank and Gaza is a key diplomatic asset, a gift that doesn’t stop giving. Thanks to it, he can add fuel to the fire of hostility between the warring Palestinian factions while also rejecting the international community’s urgings to restart the peace process on the grounds that Abbas in any case can’t guarantee that any future agreement would also include Gaza.
On this issue, too, it seems the defense professionals have a slightly different view. They are aware of the risks reconciliation poses; inter alia, it could bolster Hamas’ standing in the West Bank and undermine the PA’s security coordination with Israel. But they also see some advantages – first and foremost, the possibility of achieving calm on the Gaza border for a relatively long period of time.