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4
Mar
2018

New Egyptian Effort to Achieve Palestinian Reconciliation


Hamas leaders in Egypt

Hamas leaders in Egypt. Ismail Haniyeh is second from the right. (Arab press)

  • Egypt’s new head of intelligence spent 10 days in intensive discussions with the Hamas leadership from the Gaza Strip and abroad, who traveled to Cairo for this purpose.
  • Egypt is prepared to take a series of steps toward Hamas in exchange for quiet and stability in the Gaza Strip.
  • Next month, presidential elections are due to take place in Egypt, and the government wants to ensure that they go smoothly.

Since February 10, 2018, Gen. Abbas Kamal, the newly-appointed Egyptian head of intelligence, has been conducting a series of intensive discussions with the Hamas leadership. The Hamas delegation, headed by Ismail Haniyeh, traveled to Cairo, especially for this purpose. Due to the importance of these talks, senior Hamas officials from abroad were also invited to Cairo, including Saleh al-Arouri, vice chairman of the political bureau of Hamas, who resides in Beirut. According to Egyptian sources, Egyptian intelligence did not allow the delegation, led by Haniyeh, to go to Qatar first for a consultation with the rest of the leadership. Instead, they were compelled to travel straight to Egypt.

General Abbas Kamal with Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi

Newly appointed head of Egypt’s General Intelligence Service, General Abbas Kamal, (left) standing behind Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi. (Arab press)

Egypt wants to limit Qatar’s involvement in Palestinian issues as much as possible and allow the United Arab Emirates access to everything related to humanitarian aid for the residents of the Gaza Strip.

While Egypt has renewed the meetings with the Hamas leadership, the Egyptian army is waging a large military campaign against the ISIS enclave in Sinai. The meetings between Egyptian intelligence and Hamas halted several weeks ago due to a dead end in reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas and also due to President Sisi’s dismissal of Gen. Khalid Fawzi as head of the Egyptian intelligence service.

The new intelligence head, Gen. Abbas Kamel, also heads President Sisi’s office. He is Sisi’s close associate in most matters and enjoys the president’s complete confidence.

What Are the Talks About?

At the request of the Egyptian intelligence service, there has been a total news blackout with regard to the content of the discussions to prevent leaks from ruining the continuation of the dialogue. As a result of the talks, a delegation from the Egyptian intelligence service has arrived in the Gaza Strip from Cairo to start dealing with the issues that have held back the reconciliation process.

Hamas sources in the Gaza Strip that have been in contact with the members of the delegation in Egypt say the talks are taking place in a positive atmosphere and that Egypt initiated the process to save the Gaza Strip from total collapse as a result of the serious humanitarian crisis it is facing.

The Egyptians are concerned that the serious economic situation may cause violent attacks and a new round of warfare with Israel, which could also threaten Egypt’s stability.

For this reason, Egypt informed the Hamas delegation that it intends to reopen the Rafah crossing on an almost permanent basis for the traffic of residents and goods from both sides of the border.

Egypt announced that it would begin to prepare a free trade area in northern Sinai as soon as it has completed its military campaign against ISIS. Egypt is also considering allowing the unlimited passage of goods into the Gaza Strip in order to reduce the dependence of the Gaza Strip upon Israel.

According to Hamas sources, the talks are focused upon the following issues:

  1. Continued dialogue in order to bring about a reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah.
  2. Various measures to ease the embargo on the Gaza Strip.
  3. President Trump’s declaration regarding the status of Jerusalem as part of “the deal of the century” that is supposed to be announced in the near future.
  4. “The day after Mahmoud Abbas”- The Hamas leadership demands that due to his current state of health, Mahmoud Abbas should already discuss the issue of presidential elections.
  5. The situation of Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip following the explosion of a booby-trapped flag, which resulted in injuring four IDF soldiers, and what is happening along the Philadelphi Route on the border between Egypt and the Gaza Strip. The Hamas leadership promised not to offer any aid to the ISIS enclave in Sinai or to allow any refugees from the conflict with the Egyptian army to enter the Gaza Strip through tunnels to seek shelter and medical treatment.
  6. A new prisoner exchange deal with Israel, in which prisoners in Israeli jails would be exchanged in return for four Israeli captives and bodies held in the Gaza Strip (even though this is officially denied by Hamas).

Why is Egypt Talking to Hamas?

The Egyptian initiative to renew contacts with the Hamas leadership is a very good idea from Egypt’s point of view. Egypt will be holding presidential elections at the end of next month. It wants to preserve the country’s stability and deny elements such as the Muslim Brotherhood or ISIS the opportunity to damage the security situation prior to the elections.

For this reason, Egypt is interested in ongoing quiet in the Gaza Strip, from the viewpoints of moderating the tough humanitarian crisis and maintaining security on the border with Israel.

The Hamas leadership has apparently understood Egypt’s main message: It wants stability and calm in the Gaza Strip and is prepared to achieve these by significantly easing the embargo and putting pressure on PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to advance reconciliation and annul the economic sanctions that he has imposed upon the Gaza Strip.

It is also quite possible that PA Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will soon be invited to Egypt to hear Egypt’s standpoint on internal Palestinian reconciliation and its demands not to create difficulties for the implementation of a reconciliation agreement.

About Yoni Ben Menachem

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.
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