Where did Hamas go wrong in Cairo?

Hamas announced on Sunday that it would agree to the wish of Egypt’s General Intelligence agency for it to dissolve the administrative committee in the Gaza Strip and then allow the national reconciliation government to perform its duties and accept responsibility for the enclave. This will pave the way for general elections, but the specific elections — presidential, legislative, national council or all three together — were not mentioned, which met Fatah’s conditions.

This position was welcomed by the Palestinian factions and the Fatah movement, as noted by Azzam Al-Ahmad, who is heading the national reconciliation file for the latter. He pointed out the possibility of holding a bilateral meeting between Hamas and Fatah later in the year, followed by a meeting with all of the Palestinian factions which signed the reconciliation agreement in 2011. These will be the initial practical measures to implement all of the terms of the deal.

This spread some comfort within Palestinian circles, but uncertainty and doubt continue to dominate the scene, based on bitter, repetitive experiences that haven’t resulted in any real breakthrough. Previous deals have all ended in failure, lost among the minutiae, conditions, and counter-conditions.

What is new about this occasion? Can we really be optimistic about the possibility of bridging the gap, bringing Fatah and Hamas together and eventually lifting the siege imposed on Gaza?

The presence of a senior Hamas delegation in Cairo, led by Ismail Haniyeh, the new head of the movement, and consisting of a number of leaders representing it within and beyond Palestine was striking. It gave the impression that there would be important changes and developments that may result in alleviating the blockade on Gaza as the price or reward for Hamas’s commitment to protecting the joint border and preventing Gaza from becoming a haven for armed groups fighting the Egyptian government in Sinai.

Read: Hamas delegation back to Gaza after 10-day Egypt visit

However, the only “achievement” to date, if we can even call it that, is the fact that Hamas announced the dissolution of the administrative committee, which was established in order to fill the vacuum created by the absence of the national reconciliation government. Hamas dissolved the committee to cut the number of excuses used by Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah; the dissolution of the administrative committee was a precondition for dialogue with Hamas.

Leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Es-Sinvar and Executive committee head Abdel Salam Siam arrive at the Rafah Border to implement an increase in the border security, in Rafah, Gaza on 6 July, 2017. ( Ali Jadallah - Anadolu Agency )

Leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Es-Sinvar and Executive committee head Abdel Salam Siam arrive at the Rafah Border to implement an increase in the border security, in Rafah, Gaza on 6 July, 2017 [Ali Jadallah/Anadolu Agency]

If, though, Hamas responded to this condition, why did the Fatah delegation in Cairo, led by Al-Ahmad, refuse to sit with the Hamas group, and instead communicated through the Egyptian mediator? Furthermore, if the dissolution of the administrative committee is such a major national and Fatah achievement, why was it only announced in a statement issued by Hamas? Why didn’t we hear of it through a joint statement by Fatah and Hamas, under Egyptian patronage, or in a press conference held in Cairo, as has happened in the past?

One can only understand from this that the gap between Fatah and Hamas remains very wide, and that the dissolution of the administrative committee was agreed under pressure from Egypt along with Hamas’s desire to demonstrate its good intentions. Hamas believed that this would strengthen its position in Cairo’s eyes faced with the stubbornness of Abbas and Fatah.

We could also say that Egypt and Fatah were successful in twisting Hamas’s arm, using the siege and the punitive measures imposed by the Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority to force the movement to comply with the preconditions without the other side committing to anything tangible in return. The least that the Egyptians could do would be to make good on their repeated promises to open the Rafah Border Crossing; and Abbas could act on his promise in New York to invite the wider Palestinian leadership to meet and discuss future measures after feeling comforted by the dissolution of the administrative committee. This would give him legitimacy as the representative and leader of the Palestinian people in the eyes of the Americans and the world, albeit under the sword of punitive measures against his fellow Palestinians in Gaza, measures which are actually regarded as a collective punishment to achieve political goals. This would also qualify him to sit at the negotiation table with the Israeli occupiers after dealing a harsh blow to his archenemy Mohammed Dahlan, who also happens to be sponsored by Egypt.

Regardless of the debate over Mahmoud Abbas’s seriousness and level of commitment to the 2011 Cairo and reconciliation agreement conditions and provisions — which were disrupted every time under various excuses, pretexts, details and endless procedural and political conditions — I believe that Hamas has mismanaged the dialogue with Fatah through the Egyptian “mediator”.

#RafahCrossing

Why? Well, for a start, the movement erred when it combined the meeting with the Egyptian officials with its willingness to meet with the Fatah delegation in Cairo without any preparations. This might be why Fatah refused to meet with the Hamas delegation, even though the latter agreed to dissolve the administrative committee, which is considered to be a political “insult” to Hamas and disrespectful.

Then we have Hamas’s announcement about dissolving the committee without the PA immediately ending the punitive measures it imposed in response to the creation of the committee earlier this year. This is, no doubt, a great blow to Hamas, which based its decision on the principle of goodwill and the verbal promises by the Egyptians, who are in any case biased towards the PA and its political agenda. Previous experience and Cairo’s public positions prove this to be true.

Moreover, Hamas’s agreement to dissolve the committee unconditionally and without anything in exchange is understood as the movement being stuck and in a crisis; up against the wall with no options, we might say. This will tempt Egypt and the PA to impose more conditions and restrictions in order to gain more concessions under the pretext of lifting the siege or to allow the PA to carry out its responsibilities in Gaza. This, it is believed, would pave the way for Egypt to think about how to integrate Hamas into the political process, as long as it can be brought under control.

Read: Hamas denies opening office in Cairo

Finally, Hamas erred when it met with Dahlan, who is the UAE’s man and under Egyptian sponsorship. He is known for his hostility towards Turkey, Qatar and political Islam. It also made a mistake when it prevented Turkey from mediating instead of Egypt, the traditional rival of political Islam and the resistance against the Israeli occupation. Cairo did not provide any real aid to Gaza after Hamas’s meeting with Dahlan and it is not expected to do so after the “free” dissolution of the administrative committee, as concessions without a price only attract more pressure.

The exaggerated effort to gain the pleasure of its political opponent — Egypt — as a result of Gaza’s known weakness is seen as a moral and even psychological defeat for Hamas. This may lead to worse actions by Cairo and Ramallah, especially if the Arab situation remains the same and the Islamic movement stays on the offensive and remains hesitant to open up its political options in the region.

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