By Dr. Hani Al-Masri
In a deliberate or accidental coincidence, the Qatari and Egyptian capitals have recently held the second round of deliberations between the Fatah and Hamas delegations. This is a continuation of the first round of deliberations held in early February. They were meant to take place two weeks after the first round but were delayed numerous times for many reasons, the most recent of which is the Egyptian interior minister’s announcement that Hamas was involved in the assassination of the Egyptian Chief Prosecutor. The second round of the Egyptian-Hamas deliberations are expected to include Hamas’s responses to the claims and demands made by the Egyptian intelligence delegation.
What happened in these rounds of talks? Can they make a breakthrough and finally achieve the long-awaited unity? Will relations go back to normal between Hamas and Egypt? Which will come first: unity or a new page turned between Egypt and Hamas?
I will start with the Fatah-Hamas deliberations occurring under Qatari auspices, and it is the fact that it is under Qatari auspices that reduces its chances of success. This is because Qatar does not have the keys to the lock on the reconciliation door. Its invitation was only accepted as a courtesy, as the key to a number of locks that hinder unity are in the hands of Egypt, and Egypt is not willing to open these locks purely for the sake of the Qatari Emir, whose country has a hostile relationship with Egypt. Therefore, it will not make Cairo happy for Doha to reap the fruit of the reconciliation that has been under Egyptian auspices since Mubarak’s rule, continuing during the rule of the Military Council, Morsi, and Al-Sisi during a time when Hamas is in a feud with Egypt. Anyone who believes otherwise must refer back to the fate of the Mecca Agreement and the Doha Declaration.
The place after which the agreements are named do not alone explain the failures, as the Cairo Agreement still hasn’t been implemented five years after it was signed. There are Palestinian reasons behind not achieving unity and their influence has grown in recent years after foreign reasons for the division have declined. This is with the exception of the Israeli factor, which is still influential, as the division is the golden-egg laying chicken in the eyes of Israel. However, the Palestinian reasons still remain the top reasons because if Fatah and Hamas possess the conviction, will and interest in ending the division, then the external factors would not hinder their achievement of it.
There is a camp that speaks in the name of Fatah that wants to remain the leading party of the PA and PLO and wants to regain control of the Gaza Strip and put Hamas and other factors under the umbrella of its leadership. If they are unable to do so, then they are willing to keep the division alive indefinitely. As for the camp that speaks on behalf of Hamas, it wants Hamas to maintain its control of the Gaza Strip and possibly participate in the PLO leadership. This is because Fatah has led the Palestinians for decades and did not achieve any Palestinian goals, even after the goals were dwarfed and reduced to the establishment of a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In light of this bleak reality, what is currently occurring is a waste of time and a joke, especially due to the absence of a strong third party. The rounds of talks, signed agreements and the establishment of the unity and consensus governments are nothing more than managing the division and an attempt by both parties to hold the other responsible for the continued division. Fatah is waiting for Hamas to fall under the pressure of its deteriorating Arab and regional relations and the blockade and the fact that its relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood has become a burden in light of its decline after it had risen in the period known as the Arab Spring. Meanwhile, Hamas is waiting for Fatah to fall under the weight of the internal disputes over President Mahmoud Abbas’s successor and the loss of options and alternatives after the failure of negotiations and the failure to adopt other options given the intensification of the occupation, settlement expansion and aggression.
Based on all of the above, the fate of the Doha talks will be no better than its predecessors, even if an agreement to form a national unity government recognised by the president, not the PLC, is announced at the end of these talks. Such a government will not be formed, and if it is formed, it will not last long, and even if it lasts long, it will not govern and its fate will be similar to the of the consensus government.
Holding the second round of the Fatah and Hamas talks in Doha is unnecessary. It does not make sense for Hamas to start something new before it knows the fate of its talks with Egypt. It needs more time, more than just a few days, to know if it will turn a new page with Egypt or if what is happening is nothing more than tactical changes and manoeuvres that will not lead to a qualitative breakthrough. Hamas is also taking it slow because of the news announced by Netanyahu a few days ago regarding a development in the indirect negotiations regarding the missing Israeli soldiers, as it is still unknown whether they are dead or imprisoned. In addition to this, Hamas has not lost all hope for the fall of the Egyptian government and the return of the Muslim Brotherhood to power, despite the fact that the potential for this has reduced.
After the Egyptian interior minister’s announcement of Hamas’s participation in the assassination of the Chief Prosecutor, the relationship between Hamas and Egypt reached a crossroads. This is because the relationship cannot remain as it is, since it is on the verge on a greater deterioration due to Egypt’s threat of fighting Hamas more fiercely, reaching the level of categorising Hamas a terrorist organisation within the Arab League, similar to what happened with Hezbollah. Egypt may even try to put Hamas on the international terrorist organisation list by seeking approval of this in the Security Council.
Cairo may start a new path in which it changes its almost complete boycott of Hamas in exchange for Hamas changing its actions, not only talk, which makes it necessary to wait a probation period before judging the results of the Cairo talks. What is demanded is that Hamas becomes part of the national Palestinian movement, more than being an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood, as it was when it was established until the eve of the Arab Spring, including the need to change its position on Al-Sisi’s government and severing its ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, jihadist salafist organisations and Wilayat Sinai. This means there will be a need for continuous security coordination, an exchange of information, handing over wanted individuals, protecting the borders, preventing weapons smuggling and the transport of wanted individuals between Sinai and the Gaza Strip. This will be very difficult, but it seems to be a condition for Hamas to remain and play an effective role because the alternative is for it to make a humiliating agreement with Israel since inclusion under the Palestinian umbrella is still hindered for reasons that both rivalling sides are responsible for.
This is at a time when Egypt does not want the Gaza Strip to remain a threat to its security nor does it want Gaza to fall into its lap, which is what Israel has been trying to do since its disengagement from the Gaza Strip. In addition to this, Egypt does not want to declare war on Hamas nor does it want to reinforce its authority in Gaza after it withstood and persevered under conditions that did not achieve the reconciliation capable of ending the situation. Egypt wants to deal with Hamas as a resistance faction on the condition that it abandons its governance of Gaza in favour of the PA, which Egypt considers a legitimate party that can reconnect the West Bank to the Gaza Strip. However, Egypt’s top priority is the Egyptian national security (which our people in the Gaza Strip are a victim of), not Palestinian unity, although it is helping achieve it. In Egypt’s eyes, the most urgent issue at hand is combating the terrorist organisations that are linked to Hamas for several ideological, political and military reasons.
The implementation of Egypt’s policies has clashed in the past with President Abbas’s refusal to respond or interact with Egypt’s efforts to unite Fatah in order to open the door to overthrowing Hamas’s authority or achieving unity. It also clashes with the Israeli policy that aims to prolong the division and turn it into a permanent division, hinting at lifting the siege and opening the floating port, followed by a seaport and airport in an attempt to achieve this, if Hamas does what is demanded of it. This includes an agreement of “calm in exchange for calm”, stopping the smuggling and development of the resistance’s weapons, stopping the construction of tunnels, recognising Israel, security coordination, and economic dependency, i.e. a poor copy of the Oslo Accords between Israel and Hamas.
Hamas is facing bitter options: It will need to pay the price either for repairing its relations with Cairo, a long-term truce with Israel, or national unity, all of which are high prices. The least bitter of these options is unity, which should be a necessity, not an option, as it opens the door to the triumph of the Palestinian cause and turns a new page with Cairo, as well as the entire region. It’s true that by doing so Hamas may lose or endanger its relationship with the Brotherhood, but it is not required to shed its ideological background, rather it should establish a clear distance between itself and the Muslim Brotherhood, which is exactly what Tunisia’s Ennahda movement did and it saved Tunisia. Will Hamas do its share in saving Palestine, just like Fatah, along with the other factions, need to do their share? It would be preferable for all of these factions to take initiative on their own before the people impose their will on everyone, as they are unable to live under these conditions forever.
(This article was first published in MEMO)