Palestinians end decade-long split

Hamas's new deputy leader Salah al-Aruri (seated L) and Fatah's Azzam al-Ahmad (seated R) sign a reconciliation deal in Cairo on Thursday, October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements ended their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP / KHALED DESOUKI)
Updated 13 October 2017
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Palestinians end decade-long split

GAZA/CAIRO: Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal on Thursday after Hamas agreed to hand over administrative control of Gaza, including the key Rafah border crossing, a decade after seizing the enclave in a civil war.
The deal brokered by Egypt bridges a bitter gulf between the Western-backed mainstream Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, an Islamist movement designated as a terrorist group by Western countries and Israel.
Palestinian unity could also bolster Abbas’s hand in any revival of talks on a Palestinian state in Israeli-occupied territory. Internal Palestinian strife has been a major obstacle to peacemaking, with Hamas having fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and continuing to call for its destruction.
Hamas’s agreement to transfer administrative powers in Gaza to a Fatah-backed government marked a major reversal, prompted partly by its fears of financial and political isolation after its main patron and donor, Qatar, plunged in June into a major diplomatic dispute with key allies like Saudi Arabia. They accuse Qatar of supporting Islamist militants, which it denies.
Israel viewed the Palestinian accord warily, saying it must abide by previous international agreements and terms set out by the Quartet of Middle East peace mediators — including the recognition of Israel and the disarming of Hamas.
“Israel will examine developments in the field and act accordingly,” said a statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.
Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets across Gaza on Thursday in celebration of the unity pact, with loudspeakers on open cars blasting national songs, youths dancing and hugging and many waving Palestine and Egyptian flags.
Egypt helped mediate several previous attempts to reconcile the two movements and form a power-sharing unity government in Gaza and the West Bank, where Abbas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) are based.
Hamas and Fatah agreed in 2014 to form a national reconciliation government, but the deal soon dissipated in mutual recriminations with Hamas continuing to dominate Gaza.
“The legitimate government, the government of consensus, will return according to its responsibilities and according to the law,” Fatah delegation chief Azzam Al-Ahmed said at the signing ceremony in Cairo.
He said the unity government would “run all institutions without exception,” including all border crossings with Israel and in Rafah, Gaza’s only access point with Egypt.
The agreement calls for Abbas’s presidential guard to assume responsibility of the Rafah crossing on Nov. 1, and for the full handover of administrative control of Gaza to the unity government to be completed by Dec. 1.
Analysts said the deal is more likely to stick than earlier ones, given Hamas’s growing isolation and realization of how hard Gaza, its economy hobbled by border blockades and infrastructure shattered by wars with Israel, was to govern and rebuild.
Deeper Egyptian involvement, believed to have been backed by Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, also helped cement the deal.
“We in Hamas are determined and are serious this time and just like all other times ... We have dissolved the administrative committee (shadow government)... We have opened the door to reaching this reconciliation,” Saleh Arouri, the head of Hamas negotiators in Cairo, said after the signing ceremony.
Delegations from the two rivals have been in talks in Cairo this week to work out the details of the administrative handover, including security in Gaza and at border crossings.

RAFAH CROSSING
Key was the Rafah crossing, once the gateway to the world for the 2 million people packed into the small impoverished territory. Fatah said it should be run by the presidential guards, supervised by the European Union border agency, EUBAM, instead of the Hamas-linked employees now deployed.
“EUBAM Rafah maintains readiness to redeploy to the Rafah crossing point when the security and political situations will allow,” said Mohammad Al-Saadi, press officer for the EU Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support.
Any decision on EUBAM deployment would be taken in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority and Israel’s government, he said in a statement.
Some 3,000 Fatah security officers are to join the Gaza police force. But Hamas would remain the most powerful armed Palestinian faction, with around 25,000 well-armed militants.
Both rivals hope the deal’s proposed deployment of security personnel from the PA to Gaza’s borders will encourage Egypt and Israel to lift tight restrictions at frontier crossings — a step urgently needed to help Gaza revive a war-shattered economy.
Another major issue in talks on the deal was the fate of 40,000 to 50,000 employees Hamas has hired in Gaza since 2007, a thorny point that helped crash the 2014 unity accord.
Under the deal, these employees will receive 50 percent of what their PA salary would be — or equivalent to what they are paid now by Hamas — pending vetting of their professional qualifications.
Hamas and Fatah are also debating a potential date for presidential and legislative elections and reforms of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is in charge of long-stalled peace efforts with Israel.
The last Palestinian legislative election was in 2006, when Hamas scored a surprise victory. That sparked the political rupture between Hamas and Fatah, which eventually led to their short civil war in Gaza.
(Reporting by Nidal Al-Mughrabi in Gaza, and Hesham Hajjali in Cairo and Ali Sawafta in the West Bank)


Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence. (Reuters)
Updated 22 September 2018
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Tunisia’s premier unlikely to push reform as polls loom

  • By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011
  • Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up

Tunisian Prime Minister Youssef Chahed has survived attempts by his own party and unions to force him out but, with elections looming, looks less and less able to enact the economic reforms that have so far secured IMF support for an ailing economy.

Last week, the Nidaa Tounes party suspended Chahed after a campaign by the party chairman, who is the son of President Beji Caid Essebsi.

Chahed has gathered enough support in Parliament to stave off a possible vote of no confidence by working with the co-ruling Islamist Ennahda party and a number of other lawmakers including 10 Nidaa Tounes rebels. But his political capital is now badly depleted.

By surviving for more than two years, Chahed has become the longest-serving of Tunisia’s nine prime ministers since the Arab Spring in 2011.

In that time, he has pushed through austerity measures and structural reforms such as cutting fuel subsidies that have helped to underpin a $2.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other financial support.

Western partners see him as the best guarantee of stability in an infant democracy that they are desperate to shore up, not least as a bulwark against extremism.

Yet the economy, and living standards, continue to suffer: inflation and unemployment are at record levels, and goods such as medicines or even staples such as milk are often in short supply, or simply unaffordable to many.

And in recent months, the 43-year old former agronomist’s main focus has been to hold on to his job as his party starts to look to its ratings ahead of presidential and parliamentary polls in a year’s time.

The breathing space he has won is at best temporary; while propping him up for now, Ennahda says it will not back him to be prime minister again after the elections.

And, more pressingly, the powerful UGTT labor union on Thursday called a public sector strike for Oct. 24 to protest against Chahed’s privatization plans.

This month, the government once more raised petrol and electricity prices to secure the next tranche of loans, worth $250 million, which the IMF is expected to approve next week.

But the IMF also wants it to cut a public wage bill that takes up 15 percent of GDP, one of the world’s highest rates.