Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah was leading a delegation of Fatah officials from the West Bank to Gaza last night in the most ambitious attempt to reconcile with Hamas after a 10-year rift.
In a big concession، Hamas has offered to turn over all governing responsibilities to Mr Hamdallah. But key sticking points، mainly Hamas’s refusal to disarm its military wing، are likely to complicate or even derail the reconciliation efforts.
Hamas won legislative elections in 2006 and the following year seized control of Gaza after overrunning the Fatah-led forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Since then، Mr Abbas’s Palestinian Authority has governed only in autonomous enclaves of the Israeli-occupied West Bank، while repeated attempts to reconcile with Hamas have failed. Hamas has not held elections since.
In previous deals، including one brokered by Egypt in 2011، both sides professed a willingness to reconcile، but ultimately baulked at giving up power in their respective territories. They agreed in 2014 to form a national reconciliation government، but Hamas’s shadow government has effectively continued ruling Gaza since.
But conditions have changed in recent years. Hamas has been weakened by years of an Israeli-Egyptian blockade، international isolation and three devastating wars with Israel.
Gaza today is mired in poverty، with almost 50 per cent unemployment and receiving just a few hours of electricity each day.
Mr Abbas has also stepped up the pressure، saying he will no longer pay for electricity shipments to Gaza and cutting the salaries of tens of thousands of former civil servants and policemen who have sat idle since the Hamas takeover.
With the election of a new leader، Yehiyeh Sinwar، early this year and Egypt offering to ease its blockade، which has largely shut the border crossing that serves as Gaza’s main gateway to the outside world، Hamas now appears ready to deal.
Gaza was filled with a mood of optimism yesterday as workers painted a white fence outside Mr Abbas’s abandoned official residence، and a Palestinian flag with the government logo was painted on the front door. On a main downtown street، a huge poster of Mr Abbas and Mr Hamdallah hung outside a souvenir store. “Welcome to Palestine’s beating heart: glorious Gaza،” it said.
In another positive sign، a team of Egyptian mediators arrived and went immediately for meetings with Hamas’s leadership. It was the first time an Egyptian delegation had visited Gaza since 2007. Hamas official Mushir al-Masri said the sides would continue talks in Egypt over the next few weeks.
But reconciliation could be elusive as these committees get down to work. “The obstacles may not appear on the first day، but the bats of darkness، those whose interests would be harmed by reconciliation، may try to sabotage it later،” Gaza analyst Ibrahim Abrach said.