Palestinian factions trade blame over unity deal delay
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.