September 24, 2017

Hamas-Fatah reconciliation process shows growing Egyptian influence in region

Traditional leverage. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (R) meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Cairo, last April. (AFP)

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.”