Rival Palestinian factions Fateh
say they have come close to agreeing on an Egyptian- brokered pact for national reconciliation.
But analysts believe the two groups are still too entrenched in distrust to sign an agreement that would ultimately lead to new parliamentary and presidential elections.
“Its difficult to tell, but highly unlikely that an agreement is feasible in the near future,” says analyst Khalil Shikaki.
“Either side is not yet ready to abandon its fears and distrust of the other.”
Still those who have worked with the groups to bring them closer together are hopeful.
“National reconciliation is a must,” says businessman Munib al-Masri. “Without it, we have no independence.”
The next – and some say final – reconciliation meeting is planned for October 20 in Damascus, where Hamas and
Fateh will discuss security arrangements under the Egyptian plan.
Cairo’s plan, drafted in October 2009, is a loosely-phrased document of six clauses that seeks to address the main issues of contention. Instead of trying to bring the factions together in a national unity government, it creates a joint committee to handle disputes until elections are held on a set date.
Hamas has refused to sign the document, saying it has reservations over the role of the PLO
, security arrangements and the establishment of an elections committee. Egypt, for its part, has refused to make any alterations to the plan.
The breakthrough, says Hamas, came when Egypt agreed to allow Fateh and Hamas to make separate agreements that would form a sort of annex to the plan.
Since then, it appears that Fateh has agreed to Hamas’ demand that it have the right to veto members of the elections commission and an electoral court to be appointed by the president.
“This was pragmatic,” says Shikaki, “with the understanding that if Hamas didn’t agree to the electoral committee, the elections were a non-starter from the beginning.”
It also appears that Hamas may have abandoned its insistence that a committee to be created within the PLO with representation by Hamas and Islamic Jihad
be made influential – undercutting the PLO itself, Fateh feared.
When the factions meet in Damascus, the heads of security in the Gaza Strip
and West Bank
will be present. Certain to be on the agenda are the hundreds of Hamas prisoners now being held by Palestinian security forces in the West Bank. Hamas may also want more details on the status of some 3,000 Fateh loyalists that are to be reintegrated into Hamas security forces in Gaza.
Recent events, however, have brought into question if that meeting will ever take place. Last week, Hamas’ Izzedin Qassam Brigades threatened to attack the Palestinian Authority
itself if it did not stop arresting its cadres in the West Bank. When Israel killed two alleged Hamas commanders in Hebron
on Friday, Hamas said the bloodshed was the result of Palestinian Authority security cooperation.
It may be Cairo’s influence that brings the parties to the negotiating table in the end. Relations between Hamas and Egypt have thawed in recent weeks, with Egypt releasing a minister in the Hamas government that was being detained by Cairo and promising to release more Hamas prisoners.
And with no Israel-Palestinian peace talks underway, Fateh’s leader Mahmoud Abbas
may choose to focus on repairing relations at home.