Hamas left out in cold, as Egypt and Fatah agree to freeze truce talks

The relationship between Egypt and the Palestinian Authority (PA) has had its ups and downs over the course of Cairo’s mediation efforts between Palestinian factions and Israel, but in recent weeks, both parties have aligned on several critical points and, in effect, have sidelined the Gaza truce deal that had seemed imminent.  

The most recent meeting between the two sides came on September 1, when an Egyptian General Intelligence Service (GIS) delegation, led by Amr Hanafy, met Fatah leaders in Ramallah.

Sources close to the Palestinian Authority (PA) that have spoken to Mada Masr in recent days on condition of anonymity describe the meeting as “intense,” with both parties discussing a range of subjects, including the proposed truce between Israel and Gaza factions and the reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas.

At the end of the meeting, the Egyptian delegation and Fatah leaders agreed to freeze truce talks until the reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah is concluded, according to the same sources.

On Thursday, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the PA, met with Azzam al-Ahmed, the head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s (PLO) delegation to Egypt and a Fatah Central Committee member, for several hours, after it which it was announced that Fatah’s delegation would pay a visit to Cairo next week to discuss reconciliation.

The Fatah delegation will be lead by Ahmed, and include three Palestinian officials: intelligence chief Majed Faraj, Civilian Affairs Minister Hussien al-Sheikh and PLO member Rawhy Fattouh.

While there have been recent reconciliation proposals presented to the two sides, Fatah is demanding that Hamas fully execute the 2011 Cairo agreement. Sources close to the PA tell Mada Masr that the Fatah delegation due in Cairo next week will make a push for the Egypt-sponsored reconciliation proposal, which builds on the 2011 agreement but also addresses control over income sources and taxation, aspects not outlined in the 2011 talks.

Gaza factions have voiced their opposition to the Egyptian proposal.

The alignment between Egypt and Fatah leaders has seemingly sidelined Hamas, as a week has passed since the September 1 meeting, and Hamas officials say they have not been informed of the meeting’s outcome to freeze talks.

“We haven’t received any response from either Egypt or the United Nations (UN) envoy regarding truce talks,” Hamas spokesperson Mushir al-Masry tells Mada Masr.

According to the spokesperson, there are not currently any plans for a Hamas delegation to travel to Cairo.

The sudden change in Cairo’s decision-making process may have been caused by threats coming from Abbas. In reports published over the last two days, the London-based Saudi newspaper Al-Hayat reports that the PA president threatened to sever relations with Israel, most notably security cooperation, and to halt financial transfers to the Gaza Strip the day after any truce agreement was concluded.

According to Al-Hayat, the PA has also informed Cyprus — which would have been connected to Gaza via a maritime passageway under Israeli supervision per the reported details of the truce agreement — and the UN that any agreement concerning any part of the Palestinian territories and any other entity must go through the UN-recognized Palestinian government in Ramallah.

For weeks, Ahmed has insisted on prioritizing reconciliation talks before discussing any other subject with Cairo.

“The reconciliation should be prioritized, because the truce issue must be dealt with on the national level, meaning it is the PLO’s responsibility, not that of the factions,” Ahmed previously told Palestinian media.

Hamas looks at reconciliation from another angle, however. They claim that the unity government is fully under Fatah’s control and doesn’t represent all the Palestinians.

The issue of administrative control over Gaza has long been a contentious issue. Abbas imposed sanctions on Gaza in April 2017, the lifting of which was contingent on the full dissolution of the Gaza administrative committee — which Hamas set up in March 2017 — and the handing over of administrative control to the unity government.

The Gaza administrative committee took on the task of managing the governance of Gaza’s security, education, health, social development, financial development and economy in March 2017. It was formed as an alternative to the 2014 national unity government, which was unable to take over due to disputes between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority over the details of the reconciliation. Hamas conceded to the PA’s demands to dissolve the administrative committee in September 2017, following mediation efforts by Egypt. The sanctions, however, remain in effect, and Hamas has accused the PA of subjecting Gazans to punitive measures through the sanctions, which include decreasing electricity subsidies, reducing employee salaries and constricting the entry of medicine into Gaza.  

Some Hamas members previously told Mada Masr that a separation from the West Bank under the terms of the US-brokered “century deal” may free Gaza from the control of the economically powerful territory.

The Hamas delegation’s latest visit to Cairo in mid-August was positive and constructive, moving to what Hamas leaders told Mada Masr was an imminent truce with Israel.

Sources close to the Gaza factions told Mada Masr at the time that Fatah’s refusal to participate in the talks “could push the other factions to move forward without approval from Fatah or the popular front.”

The decision to freeze the truce talks in the September 1 meeting will deal a significant blow to expectations put forward by the Gaza movement. Hamas Leader in Gaza Yehia al-Sinwar stated only days before it was held, that “people in Gaza will start feeling the positive effect of truce in mid-October, if truce talks go well.”

Against the backdrop of this pledge and the ongoing reconciliation talks, the Great March of Return protests that began on Land Day in March of this year have continued. The Gaza Health Ministry announced that in the most recent protest, held on Friday, 395 Gazan protesters sustained injuries, with 147 being hospitalized, and two others were killed. Bilal Mostar Khafaja, 17, was shot dead during the Friday demonstration and Ahmed Masbah Abu Tuyur, 16, succumbed to his wounds on Saturday. Social media users circulated footage of Israeli forces shooting Abu Tuyur after he is seen throwing a rock, and Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the military has opened an investigation into his death.

A Jordanian-Palestinian federation?

Truce and reconciliation aren’t the only subjects on the Palestinian table in recent days, as United States President Donald Trump’s aide and son-in-law Jared Kushner and US Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt proposed the formation of a Jordan and Palestinian federation in a meeting with Abbas.

A source close to Abbas tells Mada Masr that the US proposal did not include the Gaza Strip in the confederation, noting that Washington suggested that the strip be under Egyptian control, a step toward reinforcing the separation of the West Bank from Gaza and, thus, ending the possibility of an independent Palestinian state.

According to Haaretz, Abbas told Israeli left-wing movement Peace Now and Israeli lawmakers last week that he accepted the proposal, on the condition that Israel be included in the federation.   

“Abbas intended to embarrass Kushner by proposing a three-nation federation, between Israel, Palestine and Jordan, as Abbas knew Israel wouldn’t accept the proposal,” the source says.  

Jumana Ghunaimat, the Jordanian minister for media affairs, rejected the idea of a confederation between Jordan and Palestine, asserting that Jordan’s position is based on the proposed two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

Fatah Revolutionary Council member Mohamed Laham tells Mada Masr that there is pressure and continuous attempts by the US administration to get Abbas to meet with Trump, with the soonest possible chance coming on the sidelines of UN General Assembly meetings in New York later this month.

According to Lahman, Abbas has set several conditions for meeting Trump, including isolating the US negotiating team — given their bias toward Israel, their lack of objectivity renders them unable to be in a mediating position — as well as the reopening of the PLO headquarters and the resumption of support to the recently suspended authority, as well as the resumption of US support to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, which was halted on August 31.

In Lahman’s estimation, the US administration has realized that it cannot bypass Abbas, having seen previous attempts to do so through Hamas fail.

Ahmad Shehada 

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