Undoing Palestinian reconciliation from the inside

Hamas seems to have become aware of its inability to secure its maximum demands and was showing flexibility on most issues, except for the question of weapons.
Sunday 14/10/2018
A man puts up a Palestinian flag over a cage before releasing pigeons to show support for reconciliation between rival factions Hamas and Fatah. (Reuters)
Hope springs eternal. A man puts up a Palestinian flag over a cage before releasing pigeons to show support for reconciliation between rival factions Hamas and Fatah. (Reuters)

A shroud of mystery is enveloping meetings in Cairo between Egyptian intelligence services in charge of the Palestinian reconciliation issue and the Hamas and Fatah delegations.

The secrecy seems to indicate that the Egyptian side wishes to avoid controversy that might be triggered by irresponsible declarations from the Palestinian parties. When pressed for information, the Palestinian rivals usually limit themselves to declaring that negotiations are continuing and that their Egyptian brothers are adamant on bringing about reconciliation.

The Egyptian side is irked by the positions of both Palestinian rivals. Nevertheless, it persists in doggedly pursuing its objective, determined not to come to a dead end. At every occasion, the Egyptians would make a proposal, revise it and the Palestinians would hear about an Egyptian “memo.”

At every occasion, also, when the content of the memo became public knowledge, one of the Palestinian rivals would express reservations. Even when the memo was kept confidential, there would be expressions of reservations from this side or the other. The issue revolves around the question of how to “enable” or “empower” the president of the Palestinian Authority, as well as the “empowerment” that Hamas seeks to preserve itself, the livelihoods of its members and its business and real estate assets.

Nobody knows what this empowerment means and none of the involved parties wish to find any solutions to its contentious points. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wants it to include the disarmament of Hamas and end its ability to turn the tables whenever it wants. Hamas clings to its weapons, considering them means of legitimate resistance.

Observers noted that Hamas seems to have become aware of its inability to secure its maximum demands and was showing flexibility on most issues, except for the question of weapons. For Hamas, weapons are tantamount to its right to exist. For its members, if they lose their weapons, everything will fall apart and Hamas will be unable to protect those affiliated with the organisation.

Many Gazans have multiplied their complaints about the public behaviour of Hamas. The Gazan society is tribal and it is feared that some of the aggrieved would exact revenge on those who have hurt them or killed their children.

One of the worst calamities due to this rift is the emergence of vindictive feelings within the community. Some sections fear this vindictiveness and are careful not to allow the other group to take revenge. For Hamas, the issue of arms is a matter of life and death.

Abbas, who demands disarmament, ignores the political and social dimensions of the process. He is convinced that Hamas’s disarmament would be the icing on the cake of his security coordination approach with Israel. He is convinced that disarming Hamas would bolster his political position and that would soften Israel when negotiating a settlement. This assumption is the result of a misconception that Israel and the Americans can be appeased and that the security issue is their real concern.

Indeed, security was far from being the driving concern behind US President Donald Trump’s endorsement of Israel’s claim that Jerusalem is its capital. The decision to bulldoze the Palestinian Bedouin village of Khan al-Ahmar, which has 173 inhabitants living quietly and not threatening anyone, was not due to a security concern. The Israeli court that issued the decision to demolish the village was not deciding a security issue.

The so-called Deal of the Century became itself the basic excuse to justify the position and behaviour of the other side. What Abbas considers to be Hamas’s reluctance to meet the terms of reconciliation emanates from its latent desire to establish a mini-entity in Gaza as a condition for the passage of the deal.

Hamas says that Abbas is conforming to and supporting a deal that would render the Palestinian people toothless and unable to resist and the dominion of security coordination is consolidated on Palestinian lands, ready-made for the Israeli solution framework.

Both parties maintain the rift and are stalling the Egyptians’ attempts at reconciliation. They realise that the deal they are talking about is better served with division.

The Egyptians and the two adversaries are observing complete silence about the deliberations in Cairo so as not to make matters worse. Some, in their attempts to decipher the silence, are saying that Cairo is dissatisfied with Abbas’s position and considers it negative; others favourable to Abbas say the opposite. Amid this clamour, no details have leaked about how to solve the weapons issue to keep both the wolf and the sheep alive.

Still, it is possible to reach a solution on the issue of military structures in Gaza by integrating them into a constitutional framework, transforming them into the nucleus of a national military defence institution that obeys political decisions, especially decisions made by elected constitutional bodies grouping all shades of the political spectrum among the Palestinians.

Since both parties are uninterested in such a solution, the issue will remain hanging on two factions. The first is trying to save itself politically by demonstrating its commitment to non-violence and priding itself on disarming Gaza as its last achievement. The second faction is trying to protect itself because, like the first faction, it does not want to become dependent for its survival on a mature political system, with legislative, executive and judicial branches and that would guarantee rights, fix responsibilities and consecrate justice.

The Egyptians are adamant on pushing for reconciliation and it looks like they are getting closer to a moment of truth. What will be said to each Palestinian side is: If you are really against the Deal of the Century and think that pressuring you or ignoring you is part of that deal, let’s see you come to the reconciliation and pay your dues by giving your people their rights, that way you will undo the deal from inside.