الرئيسية » هاني المصري »   31 آذار 2016

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COINCIDENTAL TALKS
هاني المصري

"In a deliberate or accidental coincidence the Qatari and Egyptian capitals recently witnessed the second round of talks between Fatah and Hamas delegations as a follow-up to the first round that was held early last February and was supposed to be concluded after two weeks but was repeatedly postponed for a number of reasons, most recently, because of the Egyptian Interior minister’s charge that Hamas was involved in the [2015] assassination of the Egyptian attorney-general," writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.

The second round of Hamas/Egyptian talks is meant to witness Hamas’s response to the issues and charges raised by the Egyptian delegation.

But what happened in these various rounds of talks? And could there be a breakthrough, finally achieving the unity that has been awaited for so long? Will relations be normalized between Hamas and Egypt? And what will come first: Unity, or turning a new page between Egypt and Hamas?

We shall begin with the Fatah/Hamas dialogue sponsored by Qatar, which in itself reduces the chances of its success because Qatar does not hold the key that has locked the gates to reconciliation. Its invitation was accepted out of courtesy, whereas the keys to many of the locks obstructing unity remain in Egypt's hands. And Egypt will not be eager to open them simply to satisfy the Emir of Qatar when his country and Egypt are hostile and in competition with each other.

For this reason, Cairo will not be happy to see Doha reaping the fruits of the reconciliation that Egypt has sponsored ever since the days of [successive regimes] Mubarak, the Supreme Military Council, Mursi, and finally Sissi, and at a time when Hamas's relations with Egypt are hostile. Anyone who believes otherwise should remember the fate of the [2007] Mecca Agreement and the [2012] Doha Declaration.

But the name and venue of the agreement do not explain the failure by themselves. After all, the [Fateh/Hamas 2011] Cairo Agreement has yet to be implemented five years after it was signed. There are Palestinian reasons behind the failure to achieve unity, and their effect has increased in recent years after the effect of foreign factors on the inter-Palestinian split has diminished. The exception is the Israeli factor that remains effective since the split is the chicken that lays golden eggs for Israel. But Palestinian factors take the pride of place. For had Fatah and Hamas been convinced, had they had the will and perceived interest in ending the split, the foreign factors would not have obstructed the achievement of unity. And had the people, not only the factions, been present, we would not still be reaping the bitter fruits of that split.

There is a camp that speaks in Fatah's name that wants it to continue to lead the PA and PLO, and wants to regain control of the Gaza Strip and bring Hamas – like the other factions – under the umbrella of Fatah's leadership. And if this proves unachievable, then let the split continue until God decides otherwise.

As for the camp that speaks in Hamas's name, it wants to maintain control of the Gaza Strip and take part, if possible, in the PLO's leadership as a prelude to taking over the leadership of both the PA and the PLO. And the justification is that Fatah had led the Palestinians for decades without achieving their aims, even after they had been restricted to the establishment of a state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

In light of this, what is happening appears to be a waste of time and akin to taking us for a ride especially in light of the absence of a strong third current. And the same goes for the rounds of dialogue, signing agreements, and forming 'unity' and 'accord' governments. These are nothing more than a mere management of the split and an attempt by each side to hold the other responsible for the situation. For Fatah sits waiting for Hamas's collapse under pressure from the deterioration in its Arab and regional relations and the siege. And Hamas is waiting for Fatah's collapse under pressure from the struggle over the succession to President Mahmoud 'Abbas, the absence of options and alternatives after the failure of negotiations, and the failure to decisively opt for other options.

Based on the above, the fate of the Doha rounds will be no better than their predecessors, even if at their conclusion, an announcement is made that a national unity government will be formed and that it will get a vote of confidence from the president, not from the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). For such a government will not be formed; and even if it were, it would not last for long; and even if it were, it would not rule, and its fate would be similar to that of the accord government that has long ceased to be.

Holding a second round of dialogue between Fatah and Hamas in Doha is superfluous. It makes no sense for Hamas to offer anything new before it finds out the fate of its talks with Egypt. But more than a few days are needed to find out whether a new leaf will be turned between Hamas and Egypt, or whether what is happening is nothing more than tactical changes and maneuvers that do not reach the point of a qualitative breach.

Another reason for Hamas not to be hasty stems from Israeli PM Netanyahu’s announcement a few days ago regarding developments in the indirect negotiations over the [Hamas held] missing Israeli soldiers. Moreover, the movement has not lost all hope that the Egyptian regime will fall and that the Brotherhood will return to power, bearing in mind that such wagers are fading.

Hamas's relations with Egypt arrived at a crossroads after the Egyptian interior minister’s announcement that members of the movement had been involved in the assassination of the Egyptian public prosecutor. In fact, these relations may be on the verge of further deterioration, after which Egypt may threaten to exert pressure on the Arab League to classify Hamas as a terrorist organization, similar to what happened with Hizbollah.

All this is happening at a time when Egypt does not want the Gaza Strip to continue as a source of threat to its security, or to fall in its lap for that matter as Israel is trying to do ever since it disengaged from the Strip [in 2005]. But Egypt does not want to declare war on Hamas either. It prefers to deal with Hamas as a resistance faction, provided that it relinquishes its rule of Gaza to the PA, which Egypt deems to be the legitimate government. For this would reconnect the West Bank to the Strip.

This does not conflict with the fact that Cairo gives precedence to its efforts to safeguard Egyptian national security – one of whose victims are our people in the Gaza Strip – over Palestinian unity, even though such unity will help uphold that security. For the urgent matter for Egypt is to fight the terrorist organizations that have relations with and are cooperating with Hamas, and that are finding this necessary for a number of ideological, political, and military reasons.

Egyptian policy has previously collided with President Mahmoud 'Abbas's refusal to comply with Cairo's efforts to unite Fatah with the aim of paving a road towards toppling Hamas's authority, or achieving reconciliation with it. It also collides with Israeli policy that aims to prolong the split and transform it into a permanent separation by hinting at the possibility of lifting the siege and opening a floating port, then building a permanent port and airport, on the assumption that Hamas would do what is required of it.

This begins with the 'calm-for-calm' formula, and goes as far as to end the smuggling and development of the resistance's weapons, while recognizing Israel, coordinating with it at the security level, and accepting to remain its economic hostage. In other words, Israel wants to implement a bad version of Oslo, but with Hamas as Israel's counterpart this time round.

Hamas faces a number of options today, the sweetest of which is still bitter: It can either pay the price for repairing its relations with Cairo; or it can conclude a long-term truce with Israel; or it can achieve national unity. In all these cases, it must pay a very high price. But unity is the least costly of these options; however, this needs to be a necessity and not just one of a number of options.

For unity will pave the way to progress at the level of the Palestinian cause. It will turn a new leaf with Cairo and with the entire region. It is true that Hamas would thereby be threatening its relations with the Muslim Brotherhood. But what it is being asked to do is not to abandon its intellectual background, but to maintain a clear distance between that background and the Muslim Brotherhood, just as the Tunisian Ennahda Movement has done, thereby contributing to saving Tunisia.

"So will Hamas do its part in saving Palestine? Will Fatah also do its part, as well as the other factions?" asks Masri in conclusion.

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