“The new thing about former U.S. president Jimmy Carter’s tour of the region is his meeting with the Russian president who expressed his willingness to host an inter-Palestinian dialogue, and with the Saudi monarch who said he was ready to host a meeting between President Abu Mazin [Abbas] and [Hamas Politburo head] Khalid Mish’al, if such a meeting were to have any prospect of success,” writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
Carter told King Salman that Mish’al was ready and prepared to push for the meeting’s success, provided that it was preceded by an inter-Palestinian factional meeting to discuss the details of implementing the  Cairo Agreement based on the  Prisoners’ Document.
One noteworthy aspect of Carter’s tour is that it did not include a visit to Egypt or a meeting with President Sissi, despite the fact that his tour was intended, as he said, to help end the Gaza siege, speed up [Gaza] reconstruction, achieve [Fateh/Hamas] reconciliation, and revive the efforts to achieve a two-state solution. This omission stems from the fact that Egypt is currently in no position to divert its attention away from its domestic situation, even though it welcomed ‘Carter’s initiative’ and wished it success.
For his part, Abu Mazin told Carter that there was no need for new dialogues and agreements, and that what was needed was to implement the agreements that have been already concluded, one step at a time, but speedily. The most important thing, he said, was to hold the presidential and legislative elections, after which a government can be formed to address all issues, adding that he was ready to issue a presidential decree to hold elections as soon as he secured a written agreement from Hamas to hold them. He will also invite the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) to meet to ratify the electoral law on whose basis the elections will be held.
Abu Mazin also called for convening the [2014 Fateh/Hamas] Temporary Leadership Framework (TLF) at any place agreed, including Ramallah, with whomever can attend from Hamas either directly or via video-link for those who cannot attend. He also stressed that he does not link Gazan reconstruction to the reconciliation, but to the deployment of the [PA’s] police and Presidential Guard along the borders and crossing points, because this is the precondition set by the international community and the PA’s donors.
According to its public statements, Hamas has agreed to elections, but has not agreed to sign a written document to that effect. It now insists that its employees should be present at the crossing points, but no longer insists that presidential, PLC, and Palestinian National Council (PNC) elections should all take place simultaneously-- even if it does insist on a commitment to hold PNC elections when the conditions are appropriate.
The above suggests some potential ‘movement’ in the reconciliation file despite the fact that the indications suggest that we are still trapped in the same old circle of maneuvers, conditions, and counter-conditions, as evident from the insistence on linking convening the TLF to Hamas’s written agreement to hold the elections, dealing with this issue in a manner that excludes the Islamic movement and that insists on unilateral control of the situation. And all this assumes that Israel will agree to elections without setting preconditions that will be difficult for the Palestinians to accept. After all, elections in the absence of a national accord and in the shadow of the occupation, the surrounding circumstances and past experience, are a certain recipe for consolidating and deepening the inter-Palestinian split, transforming it into a breakup.
The most that ‘Carter’s initiative’ can yield in light of the Palestinian parties’ unwillingness to achieve unity is to convene the TLF in Mecca or elsewhere. This is both good and necessary; but it is certainly not sufficient. The reasons that prevented the [2007 Fateh/ Hamas] Mecca-1 Agreement from success, leading to its collapse three months after the national unity government was formed, are the same reasons that have prevented all subsequent agreements reached from being implemented. But the obstacles are more formidable today, now that the split has taken deep roots both horizontally and vertically.
Just as a reminder, we should note that the most prominent obstacles that have prevented an end to the split so far and that are still in place, consist of the PLO’s paralysis with no priority given to rebuilding its institutions so as to include the various shades of the spectrum; the wager on developments and foreign parties – whether states, especially Israel and the U.S., or other parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood; the persistent illusion of reaching an agreement with Israel; the existence of a self-rule authority on the West Bank without any powers; the establishment of a [Gaza/Hamas] state with temporary borders in Gaza; the exclusion of the mass of the people from decision-making; the absence of any substantial political debate and the attempt to forge common denominators out of the reconciliation agreements and the foundations of partnership; the attempt to rule and dominate unilaterally; the two parties’ mutual exclusion of each other; the absence of a strong and effective third party that arms itself with a popular movement that can impose the people’s will on both parties and create the required balance; and last but not least, the priority given to the struggle for power and serving private and factional interests over the national interest.
To this I would add another new obstacle, consisting of Abu Mazin’s fear of a Saudi/Brotherhood/Hamas rapprochement that may save Hamas from its current predicament. For its part, Hamas seems to be most concerned with mending its relations with Saudi Arabia, which would enable it to survive without complying with Abu Mazin’s preconditions for reconciliation that aim to strip it of almost everything in return for recognizing it as a party that has no ability to affect Palestinian decisions.
The most important factor in this regard is the change in the Saudi position that was adopted after the failure of the Mecca Agreement and up till now. Since then, and until recently, Saudi Arabia has avoided any involvement in the reconciliation dossier. It held Hamas responsible for the failure, which, in turn, led to an estrangement between Riyadh and Hamas. That subsequently developed into hostility between the late Saudi kind and the Muslim Brotherhood, which Saudi Arabia deemed to be part of the Turkish/Qatari alliance – later to include ISIS; one that Riyadh viewed as the second most important threat facing it along with the primary Iranian threat.
After King ‘Abdullah’s death and after King Salman came to power, an important change occurred in Saudi policy. The Iranian threat was perceived as of the utmost priority, which eventually led to Operation Decisive Storm [in Yemen], which Riyadh decided to launch before the [March] Arab summit. In fact, it confronted the summit with a fait accompli that the summit could not but support, despite the Saudis’ unilateral decision and their behavior at the meeting. For as soon as he finished delivering his speech, King Salman left Sharm el-Sheikh and took the Yemeni president with him, even though the main reason the summit was held had been for the sake of the latter’s country, which required him to stay till the end. But he is no more than ‘a slave who takes orders’ and cannot oppose the message that Salman wanted to deliver to everyone, namely, that the debate was over with his speech, and that the summit had to endorse what he wants.
The change in Saudi policy was the result of President Obama’s advice to Salman to open up to the Muslim Brotherhood during the former’s visit to offer his condolences for the death of King ‘Abdullah. That change manifested itself in a review of the Saudis’ previous attitude towards the Turkish/Qatari/Brotherhood alliance. There are growing signs that Saudi Arabia has now joined this alliance. This was further consolidated by the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood in general, and its Yemeni branch in particular, have sided with Saudi Arabia in Decisive Storm. Moreover, the Brotherhood is fighting the Syrian regime; in other words, it sides with the rulers of Ankara, Riyadh, and Doha. Furthermore, Hamas has backed legitimacy [Yemeni president Hadi] in Yemen and has publicly begun to demand a Saudi role in the inter-Palestinian reconciliation.
The question now is this: What position will Egypt adopt, especially if the new Saudi position extends to demanding reconciliation between President Sissi and the Muslim Brotherhood? If the matter remains confined to Saudi Arabia’s joining the fray in dealing with the inter-Palestinian reconciliation, this may be accepted by Egypt, especially since that dialogue will be focused on implementing the reconciliation agreement sponsored by Egypt and control of the basic elements of this file will remain in its hands, enabling it to influence it positively or negatively whenever it wishes.
For Cairo will be satisfied if Saudi Arabia manages to convince Hamas to allow the PA to take control of the borders and crossing points, which would ensure Egypt’s security by shutting down the threat resulting from the cooperation between the takfiri jihadi organizations in Sinai and Gaza, either with the direct help of the Hamas Gaza authority there or via it turning a blind eye to it.
In this regard, some believe that the Egyptian/Saudi ‘honeymoon’ is about to end because Cairo does not share Riyadh’s view that the Iranian threat is the sole or most salient threat, and because there is a different Egyptian approach for dealing with Iran and Syria that gives priority to fighting terrorism and confronting the Turkish/Qatari/Brotherhood alliance. If this proves true, it would have a negative effect on any Saudi effort to achieve inter-Palestinian reconciliation.
Carter’s efforts may coincide with an Arab/regional effort to achieve inter-Palestinian reconciliation together with a long-term truce with Israel that would, prevent the Palestinian situation from exploding in a region that is already rife with various explosions, at least, and that would, at most, seek to prepare the climate for reviving the two-state solution. That solution is breathing its last, and there are various international efforts to save it before it expires.
“Should that occur, it would fling open the doors to the unknown in the region,” concludes Masri.