Egypt’s Carrot, Stick For Hamas

By Mahmoud Ali

Egypt has presented Hamas with a package proposal to solve the long-running Palestinian inter-factional crisis, threatening sanctions for whichever faction foiling the initiative.

"The Egyptian paper calls for the resignation of the Gaza-based government of Ismail Haniyeh and the Salam Fayyad cabinet in the West Bank," a well-placed Egyptian source told IslamOnline.net.

"It also calls for forming a government of independents or technocrats or a national unity government acceptable to Fatah, Hamas and other factions," he added.

"The mission of the new government will be ending the months-long siege on Gaza Strip, preparing for legislative and presidential elections, restructuring security agencies and reforming the Palestine Liberation Organization."

The Egyptian paper, seen by IOL, was presented to a high-level Hamas delegation during a meeting with Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman.

"This was a good meeting, maybe this will prepare us to reach reconciliation. It was a good step," Moussa Abu-Marzuk, deputy head of Hamas political bureau, told reporters after the meeting.

Egypt has had similar meetings with other Palestinian factions, including President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah, over the past two months for the same purpose.

"We agree with the Egyptian vision to form a unity government uniting Palestinians and to…study how to get from this phase to the next," said Abu-Marzuk.

"There will be more meetings, bilateral (with Egypt) and trilateral (with Fatah) in this month," he confirmed, without giving exact dates.

Reservations

The well-placed Egyptian source said the package deal is acceptable to Fatah.

"But they insist on extending Abbas mandate by one year," he told IOL.

Abbas’s mandate officially expires in January and Hamas MPs have voted for a motion that he should not be regarded as Palestinian Authority Chairman after that date.

According to sources, Hamas has expressed reservations at some points in the Egyptian paper.

It opposes holding any legislative elections before the expiry of the mandate of current parliament in January 2010.

"In return, Hamas hinted it could accept an extension of Abbas’s mandate or abstain from fielding a presidential candidate against Abbas in the coming elections," said the source.

Hamas did not field any candidate against Abbas in the 2005 presidential vote.

"But Hamas links this to reaching a satisfactory agreement on other files," said the source.

He clarified that Hamas insists on activating previous understandings with Fatah on reforming the PLO.

"Hamas wants a clear Arab or Egyptian guarantee that these understandings would be implemented."

Hamas is currently not a member of the PLO which has been presenting the Palestinians on the international arena for decades.

"Hamas also insists that if a reconciliation deal is reached with Fatah, an Arab committee should be formed to supervise its implementation."

Carrot-and-Stick

The senior Egyptian source noted that Cairo has been sending indirect messages to Hamas about incentives for accepting its proposal and sanctions if blocking it.

"Hamas will retain a veto right on reforming the security agencies to reassure it that hostile Fatah leaders such as Mohamed Dahlan would not return.

"Hamas’s opinion will be seriously taken into consideration during the formation of the unity government."

The source added that Hamas has been offered leading PLO posts, including the deputy chairman title.

Egypt has made it clear to Hamas that by joining the PLO, its international image and legitimacy would be dramatically improved.

But it has also warned Hamas and other Palestinian groups with "penalties" if they foil its reconciliation initiative.

"Egypt will publically announce the failure of the Palestinian dialogue and name and shame the group responsible," said the source.

"In case that party is Hamas, Abbas will declare it a rogue group, which could lead to international sanctions including travel restrictions on its top leaders."

Egypt will also seek a punitive Arab resolution on the party responsible for the failure of the dialogue, asserting that support to Hamas by countries such as Syria would not be enough to block the motion.

Arab League chief Amr Moussa has already scheduled an emergency meeting of the Arab foreign ministers in November to discuss the Palestinian issue.

"Cairo sees the current round of dialogue as the last chance to reach a Palestinian reconciliation, " said the source.

– Mahmoud Ali is IslamOnline.net in Egypt. (Originally published in IslamOnline.net)

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