Scepticism high in Cairo after Palestinian factions’ call for unity

Representatives of the two Palestinian factions called on Egypt to help reduce the suffering of Gazans.
Sunday 10/02/2019
Head of the Hamas Politburo Ismail Hanieyh speaks in Gaza City, February 1. (Mahmoud Naser)
At a critical juncture. Head of the Hamas Politburo Ismail Hanieyh speaks in Gaza City, February 1. (Mahmoud Naser)

CAIRO - Palestinian organisations Hamas and Islamic Jihad called for restoring national unity and ending inter-Palestinian rifts following meetings in Cairo with Egyptian officials but few observers say divisions between Fatah and Hamas will be resolved soon.

On the sidelines of talks with Egyptian intelligence officials in Cairo, representatives of Hamas and Islamic Jihad stressed the importance of continuing protests at the border with Israel.

Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives, including the head of the Hamas Politburo Ismail Hanieyh, had several rounds of talks with Egyptian officials regarding a ceasefire with Israel and mending fences with the West Bank-ruling faction Fatah of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

The talks came at a time of high tension between Abbas’s Palestinian Authority (PA) and Gaza’s factions and of increasing violence on Gaza’s border with Israel.

They also took place ahead of various international meetings to discuss the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, including a US-sponsored meeting this month in Poland Palestinian round-table discussion February 13 in Moscow.

Representatives of the two Palestinian factions called on Egypt to help reduce the suffering of Gazans, including keeping the Rafah border crossing open.

Egypt intermittently seals the crossing as part of military operations against a branch of the Islamic State in Sinai.

The Gaza factions’ representatives said they were especially concerned about measures by Abbas in recent months, including failure to pay the salaries of thousands of Gazan civil servants.

“President Abbas needs to reconsider the punitive action he is taking against the residents of Gaza,” said Gaza-based political analyst Osama Amer. “These residents are badly in need of help to overcome the very tough challenges they are facing.”

Abbas has been trying to pressure Hamas into honouring terms of previous reconciliation talks in Cairo, including the handover of Gaza’s administration to his authority. However, the tactics have failed and some observers said they even made matters worse.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri criticised Abbas, saying that more than 5,000 civil servants in Gaza were being affected.

“This is a crime against humanity,” Abu Zuhri posted on Twitter February 6. “We condemn the silence of donor countries at the use of their funds for inhuman purposes.”

Egypt, which has been the host for several rounds of talks between Palestinian factions, said that securing inter-Palestinian agreement is a vital step towards restarting the peace-making process with the Israelis.

“Palestinian reconciliation will strengthen the Palestinian position, whether it comes to peace talks with Israel or when it comes to the Palestinian pursuit for UN statehood recognition later this year,” said Tarek Fahmi, a political science professor at Cairo University.

Egypt has expressed concern that violence between Gaza’s factions and Israel could spill into the Sinai Peninsula.

The Hamas and Islamic Jihad representatives meeting in Cairo called for a national unity government in the Palestinian territories. They added, in a statement issued February 5, that the national unity government should oversee elections in the Palestinians territories and get the Palestinian house in order.

Cairo is expected to host another round of Palestinian reconciliation talks in a few weeks.

There is little confidence that talks between rival Palestinian factions will produce tangible results because the groups seem to be drifting further apart and trade accusations over the collapsed deal.

Hamas, Palestinian analysts said, would not move ahead with any serious reconciliation effort as long as it has other options.

“This is true so long as the group has regional sponsors that finance it and help it stay in power,” said Palestinian political analyst Osama Shaath. “It is in full control of everything inside Gaza and hampers the reconciliation by refusing the handover of the territory’s administration to the PA.”