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Gaza still suffering as Hamas, Fatah edge toward reconciliation

A general view shows the closed gate of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, which is under the control of the Palestinian Authority, in the southern Gaza Strip on November 15, 2017. (AFP / SAID KHATIB)
GAZA CITY: While Hamas and Fatah have verbally settled their decade-long feud over Gaza, the reality for Palestinians living in the Strip is that little has changed in the month since the two parties signed a preliminary reconciliation deal in Cairo.

Most recently, residents were left frustrated by the failure to open the Rafah border crossing to Egypt on Wednesday — as scheduled by Fatah officials when the Fatah-led Palestinian National Authority (PA) took administrative control of Gaza’s borders earlier this month.

Taher Nounou, an adviser to Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, told Arab News, “We committed to the timetable of the reconciliation agreement. We handed over the crossings to the PA government. We expected some steps in return, but nothing has changed on the ground. Reconciliation is a strategic decision for us. But it’s based on partnership, not exclusion. I hope Fatah don’t misread the generous steps taken by Hamas.”

The PA has official control of the Gaza Strip’s three border crossings: Erez, to Israel; the commercial crossing Kerem Shalom; and Rafah, following the withdrawal of former Hamas government employees.

But although Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah has described the PA’s takeover of the borders as “a fundamental step” on the road to reconciliation, he also said that, at the moment, that transfer of power only exists in “theoretical form.”

“Without security, the crossings are impossible to manage,” he explained. “We are confident that the consolidation of security in Gaza and the eradication of chaos will pave the way to pump (in) more investments and projects, but security is not an easy process.”

The government’s failure to keep up with the timetable set out in Cairo last month has meant that the sanctions imposed by the PA on the Gaza Strip — including reducing electricity received from Israel — remain in place, even though Hamas has kept its end of the bargain and dissolved its administrative committee.

Senior Hamas official Salah Al-Bardawil recently introduced a new problem to the process when he suggested that Hamas no longer see Hamdallah as an appropriate leader for the national unity government that should be formed as a result of the reconciliation deal.

“Hamdallah is a name associated with the siege of Gaza, and even after the reconciliation (he did) not provide any solution to the problems, but — on the contrary — issued negative statements every day and (is) indifferent to the suffering of people in the Gaza Strip,” Al-Bardawil said.

Referring to the next round of talks, scheduled for Nov. 21 in Cairo, he said: “It is better that factions start to form a true government of national unity to serve with integrity in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip — not one based on polarization, bias and weakness.”

However, as Majid Al-Fatinani, secretary of Fatah’s revolutionary council pointed out, Hamas representatives already accepted Hamdallah as the leader of any unity government to be formed.

“The Palestinian government is a national government and it was agreed upon before the announcement of its formation. We discussed with Hamas all the names of the ministers and agreed to them,” he told Arab News.

The repercussions of Palestinian reconciliation could extend further than much-needed relief for the people of Gaza. May believe that international support for a reconciled Palestinian government will enable the US administration to launch an initiative aimed at resolving the Palestine-Israel conflict through new negotiations.

“When the government is officially able to handle all the issues in the Gaza Strip, there will be a schedule for the meeting of all the factions to discuss major issues including PLO reform and elections,” Rawhi Fattouh, a member of Fatah’s central committee, told Arab News. “The priority now is to empower the government.”

After the Nov. 21 Cairo meeting to discuss outstanding issues, Hamas and Fatah will meet in early December to assess progress on the ground.

As Mustafa Ibrahim, a columnist based in Gaza, stresses, that progress is where the true test of the process lies. And he is painfully aware of just how much is at stake if the parties fail to translate their words into deeds.

“All the talk of reconciliation, lifting the siege and resisting the occupation will remain just slogans if they do not translate into action on the ground,” he told Arab News. “(Otherwise), it will just be a call for Israel to continue to impose (itself) in Palestine and commit crimes and kill people without mercy.”

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