Israeli-Palestinian relations

Entering a new era?

If Israel doesn′t accept the deep concessions it will have to make for peace, the recent reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah will not mark the beginning of the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It will merely be the start of a new chapter. By Daoud Kuttab

When representatives of the two major Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, signed a new reconciliation agreement in Cairo on 12 October, the focus was not on those actually doing the signing, Fatah Central Committee member Azzam al-Ahmad and Deputy Head of the Hamas Politburo Saleh al-Arouri. Instead, all eyes were on the man standing behind them: Khaled Fawzy, the head of Egypt′s General Intelligence Directorate.

The ceremony, held at the intelligence agency′s headquarters, was orchestrated entirely by the Egyptians, who view the reconciliation as a stepping-stone to a much larger goal. As the agreement stated in its opening, it stemmed from Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi′s ″insistence″ on ending the divisions among Palestinians, ″with the aim of creating an independent state″ along pre-1967 borders.

Egypt′s leadership in this process will raise the country′s standing in the Arab world, reinforcing its position as a regional heavyweight. Already, the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah has gone some way towards achieving that, while providing a badly needed morale boost for Sisi′s government.

Revival in Palestinian national politics

The good news for Egypt is that the Palestinians have shown a renewed willingness not only to pursue reconciliation, but also to get behind a difficult negotiating process with Israel and its main strategic ally, the United States. This revival of Palestinian national politics largely reflects the recent shift in Hamas′ stance, which follows years of trials for the Sunni Islamist organisation.

Hamas representative Saleh al-Arouri and Fatah's negotiator Azzam al-Ahmed sign the reconciliation agreement in Cairo under the watchful eye of Khaled Fawzy, the head of Egypt′s General Intelligence Directorate (photo: Getty Images/AFP/K. Desouki)
Egypt reasserts itself as a regional heavyweight: President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi claims to be committed to ending the divisions among Palestinians, ″with the aim of creating an independent state″ along pre-1967 borders. Yet Egypt′s mediation between Hamas and Fatah has also brought Sisi′s regime a much needed image boost

The troubles for Hamas began when it chose to back the wrong side in both Syria and Egypt. Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad′s regime prevailed over the Hamas-supported Islamic rebels in Damascus, while the Hamas-backed Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, led by Mohammed Morsi, fell after a year. Then, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed diplomatic relations with Qatar, causing Hamas to lose its Qatari and Iranian financial and political support.

With few friends and even fewer sponsors in the region, Hamas had little choice but to return to its fellow Palestinians. The group quickly and unconditionally accepted President Mahmoud Abbas′s three demands: to dissolve the Hamas-led administrative committee, to allow the Ramallah-based Palestinian government to resume its role in Gaza and to allow presidential and parliamentary elections to take place in both Gaza and the West Bank.

Reconciliation among the Palestinians will certainly open the way for peace, not least because the new elections will deliver the needed legitimacy to those tasked with handling negotiations with Israel.

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