Palestinian
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M K Bhadrakumar |

The Hamas and Fatah, the two mainstream Palestinian movements, are making yet another attempt at political reconciliation. Talks are scheduled to be held in Cairo on Monday. Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah from the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) chaired his first meeting of the Palestinian cabinet in Gaza on Tuesday.

Zvi Barel, the prominent Israeli analyst with Haaretz newspaper had written in recent months that Egypt and the UAE  sought to persuade Hamas to agree to install Dahlan as prime minister in Gaza

This has been the first meeting of the unity cabinet in Gaza since November 2014, and it signifies a step toward the internationally recognized PA retaking control of Gaza from Hamas, which agreed to the PA’s return last month under mediation by Egypt.

The Hamas-Fatah feud since Yasser Arafat’s death in 2004 significantly weakened the Palestinian cause despite repeated efforts at reconciliation, including a short-lived attempt at forming a unity government in 2014. Understandably, expectations are running high, but, equally, cynics (realists) remain skeptical. At its most obvious level, the deteriorating economic conditions in Gaza following the sanctions imposed in the summer by the PA (with the backing of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) would have encouraged Hamas to be flexible.

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As long as there is a Zionist occupation on Palestinian land, it is the right of the Palestinian people to possess weapons and resist the occupation in all of the forms of resistance

An estimated 40 percent of Gaza’s 2 million residents are unemployed and have limited access to electricity and water. The Hamas is starved of funds to run the government. But there are other factors at work, too. Hamas has revamped its leadership and has distanced itself from the Muslim Brotherhood, which, in turn, opens the pathway for dealings with Egypt (and potentially with Saudi Arabia and the UAE.) On the other hand, these three Arab countries have stakes in discouraging Hamas from developing renewed links with Iran in the emergent regional realignments as the Syrian conflict draws to a close.

Meanwhile, President Mahmoud Abbas is pretty much at a dead-end himself. His association with the US has not brought him dividends and he has no Plan B beyond the two-state solution (which Israel rejects.) Most certainly, bridging the differences with Hamas would give Abbas a stronger hand to play against Israel in the stalled Middle East peace process.

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Palestine Liberation Organization, which is the umbrella group for all the Palestinian factions, Hamas will be required to accept the principles of the organization and its decisions

To be sure, Israel’s priority will be to foil reconciliation and maintain the territorial split between Gaza and the occupied West Bank and to keep the focus on Iran’s regional surge rather than the Palestinian issue as the center stage of Middle East politics. But Israel also has interest in curbing Iran’s influence over Hamas. One major ‘deal breaker’ would be the Qassem Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, which consists of tens of thousands of armed troops.

Will Hamas agree to put the military force under Abbas’ authority? Hamas is committed to waging armed resistance against Israel, whereas Abbas considers the Palestinian security outfit to be a police force, charged with maintaining public order, securing his regime and protecting the PA’s official institutions. A report in the Jerusalem Post quoted Abbas as saying on Tuesday.

Israel’s priority will be to foil reconciliation and maintain the territorial split between Gaza and the occupied West Bank and to keep the focus on Iran’s regional surge rather than the Palestinian issue as the center stage of Middle East politics

We will not agree to the Hezbollah model (in Lebanon). The Palestinian Authority and Fatah movement will invest all their efforts to help the reconciliation succeed. But when Hamas joins the institutions of the Palestine Liberation Organization, which is the umbrella group for all the Palestinian factions, Hamas will be required to accept the principles of the organization and its decisions. We, in the West Bank, operate according to a single law and a single authority. But then, Hamas is also committed to the resistance against Israel. When asked about the surrender of weapons, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said:

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There are two groups of weapons: There are the weapons of the government, the police and security services. And there are the weapons of the resistance. As regards the weapons of the resistance, as long as there is a Zionist occupation on Palestinian land, it is the right of the Palestinian people to possess weapons and resist the occupation in all of the forms of resistance.

An estimated 40 percent of Gaza’s 2 million residents are unemployed and have limited access to electricity and water. The Hamas is starved of funds to run the government

But Haniyeh added that Hamas is ready to discuss reconciliation options: “We in Hamas are ready to dialogue with our brothers in Fatah and the rest of the factions to agree on how to make decisions including that of the decision of resistance. We have no problem with the decision of resistance being a joint decision.”

It is against this complex backdrop that one views the ‘dark horse’, the exiled Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan who has been living in the UAE. Dahlan hopes to get back home to challenge the leadership of Abbas (who is actually the principal obstacle to reconciliation, to solving Gaza’s problems and to develop a proper liberation strategy for the Palestinian people.) It could be that Egypt is aiming at two parallel tracks of reconciliation – between Hamas and Fatah on the one hand and between Hamas and Abbas’ critics within the Fatah such as Dahlan on the other hand.

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Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE feel frustrated with Abbas’ insipid leadership and have been helping Dahlan to build a power base in Gaza. Zvi Barel, the prominent Israeli analyst with Haaretz newspaper had written in recent months that Egypt and the UAE (and Israel) sought to persuade Hamas to agree to install Dahlan as prime minister in Gaza. Clearly, the accommodation between Dahlan and Hamas becomes the key sub-plot to be watched.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”. This piece was first published in Indian Punchline. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.

M. K. Bhadrakumar has served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings as India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes extensively in Indian newspapers, Asia Times and the “Indian Punchline”.

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