Hamas-Fatah reconciliation process shows growing Egyptian influence in region
Cairo- Signs of reconciliation between rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah would signal long-awaited Palestinian unity, an end to Hamas’s isolation and improved humanitarian conditions in Gaza along with re-establishing Egypt as a force on the regional scene, experts said.
“This would prove that Cairo still has leverage over the Palestinian file, something that was strongly contested by a number of regional powers,” said Egyptian MP Samir Ghattas. “Over the past few years, regional powers like Turkey, Qatar and Iran have tried to replace Cairo as the main player in the Palestinian file, using the unrest in [Egypt] and weakening regional influence.”
Hamas announced it would dissolve the administration that runs Gaza — a major step towards handing control of the Gaza Strip to a Palestinian unity government — after Egyptian officials mediated talks between Hamas and Fatah representatives in Cairo.
The deal would allow for Palestinian Authority control over the Rafah Crossing between Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, resolve the problem of overdue salaries for thousands of administrative workers in Gaza and restore electricity supplies to Gaza. It would, necessarily, pave the way for legislative and presidential elections in the Palestinian territories.
Reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is an important step for wider Palestinian unity, leading to the formation of a government that could reactivate a stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met separately with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, during which he stressed the importance of resuming Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.
However, despite Hamas’s announcement and Abbas’s welcome of the move, success hinges on complex issues related to power-sharing. Similar previous reconciliation efforts, most recently in 2014, failed after disagreements over the details.
For Egypt, the deal confirms that Cairo is still a regional power, even as the country faces economic problems. “I commend the Egyptian authorities for their tireless efforts in creating this positive momentum,” said UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov.
“This is why I say the possible deal is yet new proof that Egypt is still strong, despite its internal problems,” Ghattas said. “It also amounts to a major blow to claims by other regional powers that they can influence the course of events in the Palestinian territories.”
Cairo expressed concerns about perceived attempts by Tehran to draw Hamas into its orbit. In late August, Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar alluded to strengthening ties between his movement and Iran, describing these ties as “excellent” and “strategic.”
Cairo’s role in sponsoring the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation would ensure that Tehran is unable to influence the Palestinian file. This is a political and national security victory for Egypt, experts said.
“Cooperation between Hamas and Iran brings Iranian influence to Egypt’s doorstep, which is very dangerous,” said Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University. “This is why containing Hamas and preventing it from cooperating with rival powers like Iran is very important for Egypt’s national security.”
Representatives from Hamas and Fatah are to meet directly in Cairo to discuss details of the reconciliation deal. This would ensure continuing security cooperation from Hamas in securing the border between the Sinai Peninsula and Gaza at a time when Islamic State (ISIS) fighters operate in the area.
Cairo had accused Hamas — an ideological offshoot of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood — of abetting ISIS fighters in Sinai. However, renewed security cooperation between Cairo and Hamas tightened security on the border, assisting Egypt in its fight against ISIS in Sinai.
“This cooperation will cut off all types of support for the ISIS militants, which will further weaken them,” said Saad al-Zunt, head of the Political and Strategic Studies Centre, an Egyptian think-tank. “This will help the Egyptian Army speed up the eradication of this group.”