Hamas and Fatah make another attempt at ‘unity’ ahead of Cairo meeting

Sources say meeting of leaders in Turkey focused on how to mend Palestinian divisions

From left, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and leader of the Hamas movement Ismail Haniyeh meet in Ankara. AFP
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The leaders of Hamas and Fatah are making another attempt at reconciliation with the aim of working towards a consensus unity government ahead of a meeting of Palestinian factions in Cairo.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan – who maintains good ties with both Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah and Hamas's political bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh – brokered a meeting between the rival leaders on Wednesday ahead of a crucial conference in Cairo at the weekend.

Mr Erdogan told Wednesday's meeting, which was held behind closed doors in Ankara, that a lack of unity among the Palestinians benefited those “who wanted to undermine peace”, according to the Turkish leader's office.

A source close to Hamas told The National that the meeting in Ankara was focused on the possibility of forming a national consensus government with the participation of all Palestinian factions.

However, Fatah leaders have stuck to their stipulation that both Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, which are based in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, publicly recognise the Palestine Liberation Organisation as the sole representative of the Palestinian people – an ongoing sticking point between the factions.

Fatah Revolutionary Council member Tayseer Nasrallah said he fears there might be challenges to forming a unity government, giving Hamas's position towards the PLO and “handing over power to the Palestinian Authority in Gaza” as examples.

In 2021, Mr Abbas called for presidential elections to be held in the West Bank and Gaza – a move that was welcomed by opposition groups such as Hamas and former Fatah members now opposed to the President.

Mr Abbas then cancelled the elections, citing Israel's prevention of voting in East Jerusalem.

Another point of contention over a potential unity government, Mr Nasrallah told The National, is Hamas's objection to co-operation with the Palestinian Authority for “holding elections in Gaza”.

The Palestinian presidency said earlier this week that Mr Abbas had “invited all Palestinian factions, including Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad", to attend the meeting of the heads of the factions in Cairo on Sunday.

“The meeting will discuss how to confront aggression against the Palestinian people, especially from the extremist Israeli government, and to strengthen Palestinian unity,” according to a statement from the Palestinian presidency.

Mr Abbas and Mr Haniyeh met in Algeria last year, their first public meeting in more than five years. In October, both factions signed the “Algiers Declaration”, pledging to hold elections within a year for the presidency and for the Palestinian Legislative Council, which acts as a parliament for Palestinians in the occupied territories.

Representatives of both Hamas and Fatah have met several times over the past decade in Cairo to hold “last chance” reconciliation talks.

Analysts said a key focus of Sunday's discussions in the Egyptian capital would be reaching compromises, given that Fatah and Hamas both face challenges in governing the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza, respectively.

“One potential option to address the internal Palestinian conflict is to establish a national government,” Nasser Khdour, a political analyst focused on Palestinian-Israeli dynamics, told The National.

“Fatah is grappling with a legitimacy crisis and is striving to control the current armed uprising in the West Bank, while Hamas is struggling with economic challenges in the Gaza Strip.

“Creating a joint government could alleviate some of the governance burden faced by Hamas. However, it is important to note that this government would only be a temporary solution.”

Further steps are needed, he added, “such as restructuring the PLO, involving Hamas and the PIJ in decision-making processes, and reaching a consensus on a national plan with clear objectives and means”.

“Otherwise, such national unity would not continue.”

Analysts say Mr Erdogan has tried to convince Hamas to agree to recognise the Fatah-dominated PLO as the sole Palestinian representative and to broker compromises on smaller issues.

“I believe that what has been happening in Ankara is the continuation of talks that began in Algeria last year and that they have been focusing on finding compromises on the main sticking points, especially Fatah’s demand on the sole recognition of one-party representation,” Palestinian political analyst Ashraf Al Aaka told Sky News Arabia.

“What makes the upcoming talks in Cairo different this time around is the reality on the ground with Israeli aggression on Jenin and settler expansions that are unifying the factions to show a united front for the Palestinian people.”

Israel has occupied the West Bank since the 1967 war.

Since early last year, the territory has been the scene of rising violence, with a string of attacks by Palestinians on Israeli targets, Israeli military raids against suspected attackers, and violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinian communities.

Earlier this month, the military conducted a two-day raid in Jenin in one of the biggest operations carried out by the Israeli army in the West Bank in years.

Large areas of the camp were destroyed and 12 Palestinians were killed, including children. One Israeli soldier was also killed.

According to analysts, what distinguishes Sunday's meeting in Cairo is that this time, the call for the talks comes from within Fatah.

“Unlike previous attempts this one is naturally born and is the result of internal Palestinian pressure and not external forces,” Palestinian writer Daoud Kuttab told The National.

“Because we have had so many broken agreements it is hard to be optimistic but many essentials appear to be aligned this time around.”

Mr Kuttab, who is also the founder and former director of the Institute of Modern Media at Al Quds University in Ramallah, said both Fatah and Hamas are expected to compromise in any agreement reached at the weekend.

“There is a good possibility of some type of language to be found that is acceptable to Palestinians and one that will not deter or anger the Americans and the Israelis,” he said.

“Israel, which is regularly in contact with Hamas, can't now put conditions on Palestinians, and the US seems less hostile to Palestinians than previously due in large part to their unhappiness with the way settler and army violence has escalated.”

Turkey has been playing a larger role recently alongside Egypt in trying to bring the rival factions to the negotiating table. The country is home to prominent Hamas officials even though the Palestinian group is considered a terror organisation by many western countries.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was to visit Turkey this week, but his trip was postponed after he had surgery last weekend and as anti-government protests in Israel intensified.

After meeting Mr Abbas separately on Tuesday, Mr Erdogan promised to continue supporting the Palestinian cause and voiced concerns over the flare-up of violence in the West Bank.

“We will continue to support the Palestinian cause in the strongest way possible,” the Turkish President said. “We are deeply worried about the increasing loss of life, destruction, the expansion of illegal settlements and settlers’ violence.”

Updated: July 28, 2023, 6:30 AM