Hamas, Fatah complicate Egypt’s mediation as they trade accusations

In Egypt, analysts accuse Hamas of seeking to escalate animosities with Israel to hinder Egyptian mediation efforts.
Sunday 22/04/2018
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a conference in Ramallah, on April 11. (Reuters)
Losing patience. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a conference in Ramallah, on April 11. (Reuters)

CAIRO - Relations between Hamas and Fatah are as strained as ever, despite a much-touted Egypt-brokered reconciliation deal, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accusing Hamas of refusing to cede control of the Gaza Strip.

While Hamas initially appeared willing to hand over the territory to Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, the group said it would not give up its arms, a condition that Abbas rejected.

Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, has appeared to harden its position and analysts warned that a hard-fought reconciliation agreement signed last October in Cairo was on the brink of collapse.

“This territory cannot be ruled by anybody from outside it,” said Husam Badran, a senior member of Hamas’s politburo. “Everybody knows that Hamas did everything it could to make the reconciliation a success.”

Relations between Hamas and Abbas deteriorated after an attack on Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and intelligence chief Majid Faraj on March 13. Abbas accused Hamas of being behind the assassination attempt and many fear the possibility of a Palestinian civil war between Hamas and Fatah.

Hamas denied involvement in the attack. A few days later, the Gaza-ruling faction said two of three suspects in the attack had been killed.

The attack on Hamdallah’s convoy complicated matters for Egypt, which mediated the October 2017 reconciliation agreement and had worked to ensure its implementation.

Following two rounds of talks in Cairo, Palestinian factions agreed to move towards full reconciliation, which included preparations for legislative and presidential elections before the end of 2018 and Hamas ceding control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority.

Abbas told a meeting of the Central Committee of Fatah April 8 in Ramallah that he had asked members of an Egyptian intelligence delegation to bring him a reply from Hamas on when it would hand over administrative rule of Gaza.

“We talked to our Egyptian brothers on reconciliation and made it clear to them that either our government takes over all Gaza’s files, namely the ministries, security and the arms or there will be another talk,” Abbas said.

Speaking April 15 at the Arab League summit, Abbas said Hamdallah’s government cannot meet its responsibilities to the people of Gaza without taking control of the coastal enclave. 

The Palestinian Authority has several options if it wants to pressure Hamas, including withholding salaries of Gaza Strip civil servants and cutting off funding for Gazan ministries and departments.

“This can all be done to put pressure on Hamas to hand over Gaza’s administrative rule to the government,” said Azzam al-Ahmad, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee.

Accusing Hamas of intentionally hampering the progress of reconciliation talks, Ahmad confirmed that the Palestinian Authority has insisted on seeking “full control” of the Gaza Strip. He also called on Hamas to crack down on what he described as “terrorists” in Gaza’s coastal territory before reconciliation could move ahead.

“Hamas continues to procrastinate and waste time because it does not believe in political sharing,” Ahmad said.

Hamas denies that allegation and claims that it is Fatah that refused to implement the reconciliation agreement.

Badran said Fatah turned down a Hamas proposal for forming a committee of judges from Gaza and the West Bank to investigate differences between the two sides and try to solve them.

He said Hamas and Fatah agreed in Cairo to form a joint committee to manage the security file. “Fatah insists, however, to be solely responsible for this file, which has nothing to do with the understandings reached in Cairo,” Badran said.

A Hamas delegation arrived in Cairo for talks with Egyptian intelligence officials on reconciliation with Fatah and violence along the Gaza-Israel border. Egypt was expected to press Hamas to implement agreements reached with Fatah last year and avoid provoking confrontations with Israel. 

The deterioration of relations between Hamas and Fatah occurred when tens of thousands of Palestinians were protesting along the Gaza-Israel border. Hamas and the Israel military have exchanged fire across the border.

In Egypt, analysts accuse Hamas of seeking to escalate animosities with Israel to hinder Egyptian mediation efforts.

“The movement can actually be killing two birds with one stone,” said Tariq Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University. “On one hand, the escalation of violence with Israel will do away with the talk about reconciliation with Fatah, at least for now, and, on the other, it will please Iran whose relations with Hamas have been strengthening for several months now.”