CAIRO — The Hamas movement sent a delegation to the Egyptian capital to meet with Egyptian officials Oct. 25. According to Palestinian officials and observers, the three-day visit comes as Hamas works to pacify Cairo following the Fatah-Hamas agreement to hold elections concluded in Istanbul. Cairo has traditionally led reconciliation efforts between Palestinian factions and tensions between Egypt and Turkey are currently strained.
In an Oct. 28 press release, Hamas stated that its delegation discussed “political developments in the region and means to pave the way for [Palestinian] reconciliation while achieving national partnership and strengthening the Palestinian front.” The movement added that the meetings focused on ways to achieve “national unity in the face of the major threats facing the nation, ways to boost the resilience and alleviate the suffering of the Palestinian people and the difficult humanitarian conditions plaguing the Gaza Strip.”
Hamas stated that its delegation “found Egypt to be keen on achieving national partnership and Palestinian reconciliation.”
Hussam al-Dajani, a political analyst and professor of political science at al-Ummah University in Gaza, told Al-Monitor that the visit to Cairo was intended to restore the relationship between Hamas and Egypt. “I think things have consequently returned to normal,” he added.
In reaction to the Istanbul agreement, Egyptian state media outlets accused Hamas of complying with a Turkish plan to control the West Bank through the sponsorship of Palestinian reconciliation.
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Senior Hamas official Husam Badran told Al-Monitor that Turkey played no part in the agreement. He said, “The meetings took place at the Palestinian Consulate in Istanbul, and they were held among Palestinian officials alone without the sponsorship of the Turkish state, which only hosted the two delegations.”
He pointed out that the Palestinian factions agreed in Beirut to conduct an internal Palestinian dialogue without outside influence, mindful of the disruptive forces of the US Middle East peace plan, Israel's annexation plans and normalization deals between Israel and some Arab countries.
Badran added, “Egypt has hosted most of the meetings and dialogues between Palestinian factions, and the ongoing dialogues are based on previous agreements signed in Cairo in 2011, among other agreements signed both before and after 2011.”
Since the dispute between Hamas and Fatah erupted in 2007 — when Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip and expelled Fatah — Egypt has repeatedly brought together representatives of the two movements in Cairo. But its efforts were hampered by differences between the rivals.
However, the reconciliation path seems to have shifted recently from Cairo to Istanbul, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas calling on his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to sponsor reconciliation. Dajani and other Egyptian and Palestinian politicians and analysts told Al-Monitor the step came in protest against Egypt’s welcoming of the Bahraini and Emirati agreements with Israel.
Still, Abbas rushed to send the Fatah delegation charged with negotiating with Hamas to Cairo on Sept. 27, two days after the agreement was announced from Istanbul, to hold talks with Egyptian officials and brief them on what happened in Istanbul. Jibril Rajoub, secretary of Fatah’s Central Committee, and committee member Rawhi Fattouh met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Egyptian intelligence officials.
The Fatah delegation said in a statement following that meeting in Cairo, “The Egyptian role is pivotal to healing the Palestinian rift and achieving reconciliation.”
Shoukry stressed “the continuation of Egyptian efforts aimed at providing all forms of support to the Palestinian leadership and people during these delicate times.”
Rakha Hassan, a member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, told Al-Monitor that the Palestinians turned to Turkey out of anger about normalization with Israel and the ensuing Arab support.
He added, “Various countries have hosted meetings between Fatah and Hamas, but the factions always return to Cairo as the last resort in any efforts related to the Palestinian cause. … Egypt backs any party capable of serving the Palestinian cause.”
Hassan, who participated in monitoring the general elections in Palestine in 2005 and 2006, said the Palestinians seem to be serious about reconciliation this time, pointing to Palestine’s Oct. 27 call on the UN Security Council to convene an international conference to resume the peace process.
According to Rajoub, the Palestinians are waiting for the Hamas and Fatah movements to conclude a broader agreement with the rest of the Palestinian factions so Abbas can issue the electoral decree, to be followed by a comprehensive national dialogue to discuss the electoral mechanisms and law. Cairo, he said, has expressed willingness to host the national dialogue.
Dajani commented, “The reconciliation dossier returned to Egypt as soon as the Hamas and Fatah delegations visited Cairo.”
He added, “Palestinians cannot afford to procrastinate or suffer another blow to reconciliation. Therefore, Palestinian politicians must confront normalization and the challenges plaguing the Palestinian cause through national reconciliation and democratic elections capable of restoring and enhancing the legitimacy of the Palestinian leadership regardless of its political stripe.”
However, the success of such reconciliation depends on several factors, he said. Chief among them are the factions’ commitment to implementing agreements, Israel's position on holding and securing the elections and the position of the US administration, which is currently busy with its own presidential election.
Badran said, “We realize that Palestinians are skeptical over the current developments, and this is understandable due to the previous failures over the past years.” However, he said, “Our task as leaders is to deploy our efforts to achieve a real breakthrough in this regard, as [division] has contributed to the weakening of the Palestinian cause. We hope things will turn out for the best this time around.”