No final deadline for Palestine's unity deal
In November, Palestinians saw the first step towards a unity deal taht had been signed in October between the Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank and the Islamist Hamas movement in Gaza.
The Hamas authorities handed over Gaza's border responsibilities to the "consensus government" of Ramallah.
On Wednesday, just one day before the December 1 deadline for the implementation of the deal, the consensus government, headed by Prime Minister Rami Alhamdallah, ordered Gaza-based government employees - on the payroll of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority - to return to work.
The had been instructed to abandon their posts at various ministries by President Abbas in 2007, when Hamas took full control of the coastal enclave following internecine fighting.
While the move appeared to comply with October's deal - which was signed in Cairo, under Egyptian patronage - Hamas said the return of PA workers breached the agreement.
"The step to allow the PA employees back is something that has violated responsibilities of an administrative legal committee, agreed upon during the reconciliation talks in Cairo," said Hamas spokesman Abdellatif Alqanou.
"This step has hurt all, including the Gaza employees, Hamas and other political factions in Gaza."
Alqanou's rejection coincided with events on the ground, with Hamas-appointed employees in Gaza's finance ministry refusing to allow former staff, appointed by the PA long ago, to enter the building on Wednesday morning.
|Over the past couple of months, Hamas has been calling for integration of Hamas-appointed government employees into the PA's payroll|
Hamas civil servants
Over the past couple of months, Hamas has been calling for integration of Hamas-appointed government employees into the PA's payroll, before the PA resumed responsibility for government facilities in the coastal strip.
In the meantime, Fatah's member of parliament in Gaza, Mohammad Hejazi, told The New Arab that the workers' return was in itself a good step - but one that should have taken place rather more smoothly:
"Return of those employees is something necessary for rehabilitating the government facilities, for the best of our people. Yet, I would oppose to the way it has taken place. I would have preferred that the Palestinian finance minister, himself, would have come over to the ministry's premises and supervised the move himself."
Would such a step have worked if it was concurrent with lifting the sanctions imposed by the PA several months ago on Gaza? The sanctions included a cut to funding allocated for Gaza's sole power plant, a request to Israel to reduce electricity supplies, and fewer medical patients allowed to seek treatment at hospitals outside Gaza.
"I do believe that President Mahmoud Abbas will start gradually lifting those sanctions, as long as the reconciliation drive progresses," Hejazi told The New Arab. "These sanctions are useless, while we and Hamas are in full agreement that unity should be realised at any price. This would take time, but not be later than February 2018."
|The return of employees is not mentioned in the agreement and therefore, the consensus government has acted based on its own responsibilities|
Beyond the 'deadline'
Akram Attalla, a leading Gaza-based political analyst agreed with Fatah sources that the consensus government had not violated the Cairo unity deal.
"The return of employees is not mentioned in the agreement and therefore, the consensus government has acted based on its own responsibilities," he told The New Arab.
"It is true that there is yet no agreement over integration of Hamas-appointed employees into the PA's payroll, but the deal signed in Cairo in October does not stipulate that the PA-appointed employees should not return back to their workplaces. I believe that the Ramallah-based government only wanted to send out a message of will, vis a vis Hamas, which took Gaza by force, back in 2007."
As the controversy over public sector workers continues, The New Arab learned that a high-ranking Egyptian delegation, currently visiting Gaza, has held several meetings with Fatah, Hamas and representatives of other political factions.
Delegations from Hamas and Fatah are now set to head for Cairo for a new round of talks over how to work out the deal and start implementing it on the ground, The New Arab has learned.
Hussein Elsheikh, a senior Fatah official and the minister of the civil affairs department, said that the visit to Cairo has yet to be decided.
Any further handover of responsibilities has been postponed, by agreement between Fatah and Hamas.
The October deal reached in Cairo was based on a 2011 agreement, also reached under Egyptian patronage. Both parties agreed to a unity government that restored the situation before the 2007 Hamas takeover.
The signed agreement addresses a number of issues including forthcoming general elections and reform of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which involves all Palestinian political factions - excluding Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group.
Rami Almeghari is a Palestinian freelance journalist living and working in Gaza.
Follow him on Twitter: @writeralmeghari