Hamas-Fatah talks expected in Ramadan

Hamas-Fatah talks expected in Ramadan
[ 12/09/2007 – 10:06 PM ]

From Khalid Amayreh in Israeli-occupied Ramallah

Hamas and Fatah  are resuming indirect contacts for the purpose of  ending their lingering showdown and  restoring national unity following the mid-June events in the Gaza Strip,  which saw the dismantling and ousting of Fatah  security forces by Hamas’ militiamen in the coastal territory.

The indirect contacts, which could soon evolve into direct talks, are being sponsored in part by the government of Saudi Arabia which until recently refused to renew efforts to convince the two largest Palestinian political-military  factions to overcome their differences.

According to reliable sources within Hamas, the latest moves began earlier this week when Ismael Haniya, the prime minister of the Gaza-based government, phoned the Saudi Crown-Prince Sultan Ibn Abdul Aziz to wish him well on the occasion of the advent of the Holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

During the ensuing conversation, the Saudi crown-prince reportedly asked Haniya what he thought Saudi Arabia could do to help Fatah and Hamas overcome their differences.

According to the sources, Haniya  told the Saudi leader that Hamas was still committed to the Saudi-brokered  Makka Accords of 8 February  and  was willing to  sit down with Fatah in Makka or anywhere to resolve all outstanding problems with Fatah.

Haniya  also argued that  it was illogical that Palestinian leaders were readily holding meetings with their enemies (Israel) while refusing to sit down with their own brothers.

Furthermore, Haniya told Prince Sultan that Hamas would agree to return the former Fatah security headquarters to the PA  if the Fatah leadership agreed to restructure Palestinian security forces on “national” rather than “factional” basis.

Prince Sultan briefed King Abdullah on the conversation with Haniya after which the  king reportedly decided to  invite Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to visit Jeddah in 48 hours.

Abbas  arrived in Jedda  on Wednesday  and held  extensive talks with King Abdullah during which  the two leaders agreed that  the Makka agreement was the sole base for  the restoration of Palestinian unity.

Abbas, however, told the Saudi leadership that Hamas would have to return to the status quo ante in the Gaza Strip.

Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Saud al Faisal was quoted as saying on Wednesday that his government was not introducing a new initiative to resolve the Fatah-Hamas rift.

However, it was abundantly clear that "all sides" are reasserting the Makka Agreement as the basis for resolving the current predicament between Gaza and Ramallah.

Abbas is likely to hold extensive consultations with Fatah leaders before taking a final decision on restarting reconciliation talks with Hamas.

Fatah leaders and supporters have been adopting a vindictive discourse vis-à-vis Hamas so much that, according to a Palestinian writer based in Ramallah, 90% of  statements by Fatah were directed at Hamas,  not the Israeli occupation.

Meanwhile, Haniya is due to give a speech Wednesday afternoon in which he is expected to spell out unspecified “gestures” and “confidence-building measures” toward Fatah.

Ahmed Yousuf, advisor to Haniya, has revealed that Haniya will “outline the bases for settling the inter-Palestinian rift in a bid to find a way out of the current deadlock.”

A Palestinian lawmaker from Hebron intimated that Hamas would  “swallow its pride” and take the first step toward ending the crisis with Fatah.

“Someone has to make the first step, and it is Hamas,” said the MP who asked that his name not be identified at this stage.

He added “Hamas is going to throw the ball into the Fatah court, and then if Fatah continued to show intransigence, it would bear full responsibility for the continuation of the crisis.”

The legislative council member didn’t say exactly what step Hamas would take, but observers in Gaza as well as inside sources in Hamas indicated that Hamas would probably announce its intention to place erstwhile Fatah security headquarters under the control of a third party, possibly Egypt.

Interestingly, the auspicious diplomatic activities are not being matched with genuine  positive developments between the two groups on the ground.

In the West Bank, Fatah security  forces continued to raid and hound Hamas targets and supporters, rounding up, mistreating and occasionally torturing Hamas supporters. Similarly, Hamas’ police forces in Gaza have been arresting, though for brief periods, Fatah activists and leaders, accusing them of fomenting trouble on instructions from Ramallah.

This week, Hamas issued a report accusing Fatah militiamen and PA security forces of carrying out a thousand attacks on Hamas’ supporters and institutions, including acts of vandalism and sabotage, murder, shooting, arrests and abduction.

PA security sources defend the crackdown on Hamas, saying that they are only trying to prevent Hamas from building a military structure in the West Bank similar to the “Executive Force” in Gaza.

The “executive force” played a key role in  defeating Fatah forces in the strip.

However,  Fatah’s claims in this regard seem to have little logic if any given the fact that the West Bank, unlike the Gaza Strip, is fully and tightly under the Israeli occupation.

This means that in order for Hamas to be able to carry out a “coup” against Fatah, it would have to have a combined fire power to defeat both the Israeli army and Fatah, which is utterly illogical.

“A military coup is carried out by an army against its government, army units would take control of  government buildings, main radio and TV stations, and key strategic installations. And none of these elements is present in the West Bank since the entire region is under tight Israeli occupation,” said Palestinian Legislative council member Hatem Qafisha of Hebron.

Qafisha, speaking at a Ramallah symposium Wednesday,  lashed out at Fatah claims that Hamas was disregarding “Palestinian legitimacy.”

“I am the legitimacy. I was elected by 51,000 votes. I was elected by the people.”

He further lambasted Fatah for stonewalling and refusing dialogue with Hamas.

“You in the PLO fought each others with tanks in Lebanon. You killed hundreds of each others. But you eventually overcame your differences through dialogue.  So, why can’t the same thing be done be
tween Fatah and Hamas?”

Political prayers

In addition to a harsh propaganda waged by the two sides, each against the other, Fatah has been trying to harass Hamas by organizing the Friday congregational prayers in public squares, apparently to sow discontent and foster an atmosphere of instability.

On Friday, 7 September,  the Fatah leadership urged Palestinians to show their opposition to Hamas by praying in schoolyards and other open places. However, a relatively small numbers of citizens heeded the call, which suggested that Fatah is more feared than respected even in the West Bank where the movement is in control, mainly due to Israel’s willingness to allow it to operate unhindered.

In the Gaza Strip, thousands of Fatah supporters, many members of dismantled security and police forces, tried to hold public prayers in public squares, but were violently dispersed by Hamas.

Hamas leaders argued that the prayers were “not for the sake of God, but for the sake of Satan,”  and thus were unlawful.

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