Palestinian factions trade blame over unity deal delay

Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital further complicated an already difficult attempt to transfer power in Gaza.
December 17, 2017
On the verge of collapse?

London - Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas missed a ma­jor deadline in their rec­onciliation bid by failing to transfer power in the Gaza Strip, with the rivals trading accusations of blame.

US President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital further complicated an al­ready difficult attempt to trans­fer control in Gaza from Islamist movement Hamas to the Palestin­ian Authority.

The Palestinian territories, in­cluding the Gaza Strip, have seen protests and clashes each day since Trump’s declaration.

There had been a December 10 deadline for the handover, a dec­ade after Hamas seized power in the Palestinian enclave in a near civil war with Palestinian Presi­dent Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah, based in the occupied West Bank.

An Egyptian-brokered agree­ment in October set a December 1 deadline for full transfer of power to the Palestinian Authority, which is dominated by Fatah, though that was pushed back.

In Gaza, the situation was essen­tially unchanged despite the dead­line, with Hamas police patrolling streets and crippling electricity shortages continuing.

Hamas claimed on December 9 it had handed over control of all government ministries but Fatah’s top negotiator said “obstacles” re­mained.

Palestinian Authority spokes­man Yousef Mahmud said his government had not received full control in key ministries. In a statement released by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, he accused Hamas of seeking to stop the handover.

Fawzy Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, told Agence France- Presse (AFP) that Mahmud’s statement was an attempt to “cover up the government’s fail­ure to carry out its duties to the people of Gaza.”

Palestinians and international players had hoped that a reconcili­ation deal could lead to the easing of Israeli and Egyptian blockades on Gaza, reducing suffering of the 2 million people largely trapped in the enclave.

“Some commentators argue that reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas facilitates peace-making with Israel. It could give Abbas an answer to Israeli complaints that negotiations are pointless because he can’t ensure that a treaty will hold in Gaza,” wrote Jonathan Fer­ziger for Bloomberg News.

“On the other hand, the gov­ernment of Israeli Prime Minis­ter Binyamin Netanyahu, which dismissed the changes to the Ha­mas charter as meaningless, says it won’t deal with any Palestin­ian government that includes the group.”

Azzam al-Ahmad, a member of Fatah’s Central Committee and the head of Fatah’s delegation for Pal­estinian reconciliation, accused Iran of encouraging division be­tween Palestinian factions.

“Iran is the number one spon­sor of the division… the number one financier,” he told Al Arabiya satellite television at the end of November. “It seems one of the conditions for the return of Irani­an support [to Hamas] is the con­tinuation of the division.”

He also accused the Iran-backed group Islamic Jihad in Gaza of work­ing to prevent Palestinian unity.

Hamas and Fatah publicly said they remained committed to the reconciliation but fears that it could collapse were growing. They appeared no closer to an agree­ment about the future of Hamas’s vast military wing, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, and they need to resolve the issue of two separate civil admin­istrations.

Abbas also has not lifted sanc­tions against Hamas, including cutting payments for electricity, worsening a severe power short­age in Gaza.

There was little optimism about achieving a full handover by De­cember 10 but Trump’s contro­versial announcement added complications. The Palestinian government called for wide-scale peaceful protests against it but Hamas wanted a violent response, hailing attacks against Israelis as the start of a new intifada against the Israeli occupation.

Four Palestinians in Gaza, in­cluding two Hamas fighters, were killed either in clashes with Israeli forces or by Israeli air strikes in re­taliation for rocket fire.

Naji Sharab, a political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said Trump’s move made the reconciliation bid harder. “Some want uprising and others don’t. Some want a military es­calation and some don’t,” he told AFP. “With the Jerusalem issue, they cannot continue.”

Jamal al-Fadi, a politics profes­sor, said he feared the process could now collapse, telling AFP: “It seems that the process has reached a dead end.”

Yossi Mekelberg, a professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, said there was resolve by the parties involved in the reconciliation bid to make the deal work.

“Reconciliation is possible at this time because it reflects both protagonists’ current vulnerabili­ties, not just their strengths. Fatah is weak and losing support, while Hamas has failed to ensure either the security or well-being of the people of Gaza,” Mekelberg wrote in an opinion article in the Arab Times.

“Egypt urgently needs to harness Hamas’s security forces to deprive militant movements in the Sinai of their smuggling routes for weap­ons and operatives,” he added.