'Reconciliation talks' left Palestinians more divided than ever

'Reconciliation talks' left Palestinians more divided than ever
5 min read
12 April, 2018
In-depth: Egyptian-brokered reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas left divisions in the Palestinian national movement even more entrenched, reports Ali Adam.
The latest round of reconciliation talks started on 17 September, 2017. [Getty]

The latest round of reconciliation talks started on 17 September, 2017, when Hamas agreed to the conditions set by President Mahmoud Abbas to lift Palestinian Authority sanctions and revive the reconciliation process.

Hamas dissolved its administrative committee, a body in Gaza that was deemed by Abbas to be a parallel government, invited the consensus government to come to Gaza to assume its responsibilities and duties, and agreed to hold general elections in the near future. Abbas welcomed the decision by Hamas.

At the time, Palestinians were slightly more hopeful, at least compared with previous times, that this particular round of talks would bear fruit.

The reasons that led Hamas to acquiesce to Abbas' conditions, at the time, were believed to be a combination of Egypt's mediating efforts, and the new more "open-minded" Hamas leadership led by Yehya Sinwar, who was upfront about Hamas being a part of the problem and reportedly apologised on numerous occasions to Gaza's youth for Hamas' role in the political split with the leadership in the West Bank.

Since the start of the new reconciliation round, Sinwat has started cracking down on the self-interested and division-favouring Hamas members, and was highly invested in the success of the reconciliation, to the point where he threatened to break the necks of those in Hamas who hampered its potential success.

The third reason was the critically tough position that Abbas-imposed sanctions on Gaza had put Hamas in. The sanctions crippled Gaza's already battered economy in just months. The PA president imposed those sanctions in April to force the Islamist movement to give up its control of the coastal enclave. Hamas felt a unique urgency to comply.

Hamas gave up control over all of the ministries and the crossings in Gaza, and we took tough and decisive measures to achieve the reconciliation

When the Hamdallah government came to Gaza to assume its responsibilities, troubles emerged. PA officials led by Azzam Al-Ahmad started to complain that the government in Gaza was being prevented from being fully capable, allegations that Hamas denied.

According to three analysts The New Arab spoke to, after Hamas was successfully pressured to acquiesce to Abbas' conditions, the PA leader wanted more control; to twist Hamas' arm, asking Hamas to turn over their weapons to his control - which is deemed to be Hamas' "red line".

At that time, Hamas' Sinwar claimed, at a gathering of Gazan youth, that the national reconciliation process was "falling apart" because "the concept of the reconciliation to some means terminating the resistance and turning over the arms and the tunnels".

Sinwar added: "Hamas gave up control over all of the ministries and the crossings in Gaza, and we took tough and decisive measures to achieve the reconciliation."

Azzam Al-Ahmed responded in an interview with Baladna: "The percentage of the government enablement in Gaza is zero and Hamas does not want reconciliation."

Members of Hamas also complained that Abbas hadn't lifted the sanctions as promised, to which PA officials responded that they would be lifted after the "full enablement" of the government.

Both sides started throwing accusations at each other of being "adamant on the division and opposed to reconciliation". And the people started to get the idea that this round of talks was no different to past ones.

An anonymous source close to Hamas' inner circle told The New Arab that the failure of the unity talks led to Hamas rank-and-file members starting to lose confidence in the new "open-minded" leadership, with Sinwar labelled as naïve and over-trusting of the PA. Hardliners are again gaining traction in the movement, the source added.

On 13 March, during the Palestinian PM Rami Hamdallah's visit to Gaza, an explosion struck his convoy, wounding seven security guards; Hamdallah was unharmed.

Later, on 19 March, Abbas spoke at a Palestinian leadership gathering and said there had been "zero" progress in the reconciliation - due to Hamas - and accused the Islamist movement of orchestrating the attack on the PM. Abbas vowed to impose a fresh set of sanctions and to block all international aid payments to Gaza.

Hamas denied any involvement in the attack: "We are shocked by the tense stance that Abbas has taken. This position burns bridges and strengthens division and strikes the unity of our people.

"In light of all of this, Hamas calls for general elections, including presidential, parliamentary and national council elections, so that the Palestinian people can choose their leadership."

Whatever scattered remnants of hopes for a reconciliation have possibly been irreversibly destroyed by the recent clash over the assassination attempt

Days later, Fawzi Barhoum, the Hamas spokesperson, posted on Facebook: "The insistence of PA officials to excessively accuse Hamas of the explosion and their refusal to wait for the results of the investigation reflects their fear of the details emerging - and it's evidence of their direct complicity in the incident; a complicity that will be proved in the coming days."

Hamas' interior ministry investigation reported that a man named Anas Abu Khoussa was responsible for the bombing, and in an attempt to arrest him, a shootout broke out between Abu Khousa, two accomplices, and Hamas' security team, leaving Abu Khousa dead, along with one accomplice. Two Hamas security officers were also killed in the battle.

Abu Khoussa's affiliation remains unknown, and whether the attack was an individual act, or whether some political or religious faction put him up to it.

"The reconciliation talks practically failed before the PM incident, but whatever scattered remnants of hopes for a reconciliation have possibly been irreversibly destroyed by the recent clash over the assassination attempt of the Palestinian PM," political analyst Muhammed Shehada told The New Arab

"Now Hamas is going to desperately seeking any alternative, and Abbas will strangle Hamas and Gaza to the detonation point."

poll conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research after the explosion targeting the Palestinian PM's motorcade showed 45 percent of respondents blaming the failure of the reconciliation process on the PA and Abbas, and 15 percent blaming Hamas - with 27 percent not knowing who to blame.

Ali Adam is a journalist and researcher whose work focuses on issues linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

You can find him on Twitter @_Ali_Adam_