Hamas has dissolved its governing committee in Gaza in bid to reconcile with rival Palestinian faction, Fatah. This is how it unfolded.

File photo showing Palestinian flag fluttering next to the Fatahs yellow one in a rally celebrating the political unity deal between Gazas Hamas and the rival Fatah in Gaza City on May 8, 2011.
File photo showing Palestinian flag fluttering next to the Fatahs yellow one in a rally celebrating the political unity deal between Gazas Hamas and the rival Fatah in Gaza City on May 8, 2011. (Getty Images)

Palestinian group Hamas announced this week that it plans to dissolve its general administration committee, which has been running Gaza since March.

It has also said is ready to hold general elections in the Palestinian territories, West Bank and Gaza Strip. 

But why is Hamas now ready to hold talks with its long-time rival Fatah, the Palestinian Authority's key governing body? Let's break it down:

Firstly, why did Hamas form a separate committee to run Gaza?

The two parties have been rivals since Hamas won the 2006 general elections in Palestine, and Fatah did not accept the Hamas victory in Gaza. A year later, Hamas pushed Fatah forces out of the Gaza Strip, taking full control.

The 2006 election was deemed free and fair by independent observers and by the EU observers. 

Many reconciliation efforts, organised mostly by Egypt, have failed since then. Only in June 2014 did Hamas agree to a national unity government that was formed under President Mahmoud Abbas. This would oversee all Palestinian territories, including Gaza. 

However, Hamas perceived that most of the members of this national unity government were Fatah supporters. This alienated Hamas and left the national unity government unable to function in Hamas-controlled Gaza. 

Its failure to function in the Gaza Strip led Hamas to form a general administration committee to run Gaza Strip in March this year. 

Why has Hamas agreed to hold talks now? 

Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem told TRT World  “the decision by the Hamas movement to dissolve the administration committee is a response to all the recent reconciliation efforts, especially the recent Egyptian efforts.” 

Hamas’ step came after delegations of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which is led by Fatah, held talks with Egypt recently. Egypt, Fatah’s biggest supporter, has been acting as mediator between the rivals.

But the real answer is that the growing pressure on Hamas had a big impact in ensuring that the Egyptian talks achieved the desired outcome.

Recently, the Palestinian Authority began imposing punitive measures on the Gaza Strip in response to Hamas’ independent committee's moves. The measures included cutting the salaries of employees, and reducing electricity supply in Gaza.

In addition, Egypt put more pressure on Hamas, tightening its security measures on the Rafah crossing with Gaza, which is the only border crossing Gaza has. Egypt considers Hamas a terrorist organisation. 

Palestinian children do their homework during a power cut in an impoverished area in Gaza City, on September 11, 2017.
Palestinian children do their homework during a power cut in an impoverished area in Gaza City, on September 11, 2017. (AFP)

Did the Gulf crisis affect Hamas’ decision?

In June, several countries including Egypt and Saudi Arabia cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar, one of Hamas' most important backers. They accused the tiny Gulf state of supporting terrorism, based on its ties with Hamas. This led Hamas to restart talks with Egypt, in a bid to renew reconciliation efforts. 

Faed Mustafa, Palestinian Ambassador to Ankara told TRT World that foreign powers, including Egypt, Qatar and Turkey, encouraged Hamas to reconcile, leaving Hamas with very few options.

What did the new policy document, which lead to talks in Egypt, offer?

Hamas signalled it was softening its stance in May, when it announced a new policy document which made some conciliatory gestures towards the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO). The PLO is an organisation founded in 1964, dominated by Fatah. Since then it has been recognised as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people" by over a hundred states. The group had been the most effective group in Palestine until Hamas was founded in 1988. 

Hamas had refused to cooperate with PLO, based on its previous charter. 

The new document also supports the establishment of a transitional Palestinian state encompassing Gaza, West Bank and the Occupied East Jerusalem, which is also Fatah's goal. The Palestinian Authority has engaged in peace talks with Israel on that basis in past.

The group also dropped its long-standing call for Israel's destruction and in the document it strikingly makes no mention of its association with the Muslim Brotherhood. 

Hamas had considered itself to be a part of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been labelled as a terrorist organisation by Egypt, the Gulf States and Israel. 

After the release of the new policy document, Hamas’ political leader Ismail Haniyeh paid a visit to Egypt, Fatah’s most important supporter, to discuss the siege that was being imposed on the Gaza Strip. 

When Sisi met with Netanyahu in New York on September 19, the talks in Egypt were on the agenda.
When Sisi met with Netanyahu in New York on September 19, the talks in Egypt were on the agenda. (Reuters)

What’s Egypt’s role? 

Egypt has been the most important player in brokering talks between the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, and Israel. 

It supports a solution which would empower Fatah as the legitimate force in Palestine and would guarantee Israel’s security.

“I tell the Palestinian people it’s extremely important ... to overcome the differences and not to lose opportunities and to be ready to accept co-existence with the other, with Israelis in safety and security,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al Sisi told the annual UN General Assembly on Tuesday.

Sisi came to power in 2013 after he ousted Egypt's first-ever democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi, who was also the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In 2007, Israel began imposing a land, air, and sea blockade on the Gaza Strip, leaving the territory's estimated 1.8 million inhabitants dependent on Egypt, Gaza’s only gateway to the outside world. 

However, Gazans mainly use cross-border tunnels between Egypt and Gaza to import basic commodities, including food, fuel, and medicine, as Egypt doesn’t provide regular access to its border gates. In addition to playing a role as Fatah’s biggest supporter, Egypt has used its border crossings as leverage. 

Mending relations with Egypt has become more critical to Hamas this year, especially in light of the punitive measures by the Egypt-backed Palestinian Authority. 

What is next?

Even though the parties have agreed on taking these steps in principle, nothing is set in stone. According to the agreements, a unity government would govern the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. 

The Palestinian Authority’s ambassador to Turkey says it doesn’t mean that Fatah would be the administrative power. 

“Our members in this government are not from Fatah but they're Palestinians agreed from all parties, the majority of them are technocrats,” he told TRT World. 

There will be serious meetings in the coming days to discuss details but it “seems like there are no obstacles to achieve the reconciliation because it's in the shared interest of the Palestinian people,” he said. 

Hamas says the ball is in Abbas’ court now. 

“He has to make the necessary decision to complete the reconciliation, such as ending the punitive measures against the Gaza Strip,” Qassem said. 

There is no official statement from Israel on the latest talks between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority but Dore Gold, the former director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry was critical of the talks making no mention of cutting ties with Iran.

Israel has long accused Iran of supplying Hamas with weapons.

Source: TRT World