Palestinian parties meet in Egypt but reconciliation remains uncertain

Factions searched for compromise to present a united opposition to right-wing Israeli government

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the presidential complex in Ankara on July 25. He arrived in Egypt on Saturday. AFP
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A meeting between various Palestinian political factions held in the Egyptian coastal city of Alamein on Sunday ended with no tangible reconciliation between groups based in the Gaza strip and those based in the West Bank.

In a statement made to Wafa news agency, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas denounced the 2007 Battle of Gaza, during which Hamas militants took over the Gaza strip and removed Abbas' West Bank-based Fatah party from the enclave.

The battle, which Mr Abbas called a "coup", marked the beginning of a political rift between the parties based in the two main Palestinian territories, which has remained ever since.

Sunday's meeting was held with the aim of reconciling all parties under one banner amid a marked increase in Israeli aggression in Palestinian territories following Benjamin Netanyahu's return to the post of Prime Minister in December.

Mr Abbas was received by Maj Gen Abbas Kamel, director of the Egyptian General Intelligence Directorate, at his residence in Alamein on Sunday.

Mr Abbas arrived in the coastal city on Saturday night. After chairing Sunday's talks, he is set to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi on Monday, according to Wafa.

Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of Gaza-based Hamas, also arrived with his delegation on Saturday.

Sunday’s talks were boycotted by the prominent Palestinian Islamic Jihad faction. The Gaza-based militant group's leader Ziyad Al Nakhalah made its participation conditional on the release of detainees by Palestinian authorities in the West Bank.

PIJ denounced “continued political detention and prosecution of the resistance”, speaking to AFP on Saturday.

The talks were also boycotted by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

Some analysts were cautiously optimistic that Sunday’s meeting would reach a semblance of unity for the Palestinian groups who have come under increasing pressure from the Israeli right-wing government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

According to a tally by the AP, 160 Palestinians have been killed in the West Bank since the start of the year, either during military raids on refugee camps or by Israeli settlers taking land.

“The success of Sunday’s meeting is going to depend heavily on the participants’ ability to make compromises,” Khaled Okasha, a leading political analyst and the general manager of the Egyptian Centre for Strategic Studies, told The National on Sunday.

“Being that it is the first meeting of its kind in years in addition to the fact that increased Israeli aggression has created a tremendous impetus to reach Palestinian unity.”

Mr Abbas and Mr Haniyeh met in Ankara last week for talks hosted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who maintains a good relationship with both sides.

Following the meeting, which took place behind closed doors, Mr Erdogan stated that his government was committed to reaching a reconciliation between the groups.

Mr Abbas and Mr Haniyeh also met in Algeria last year, their first public talks 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.

One point of contention that has maintained the rift between groups based in the Gaza Strip and those based in the West Bank is the recognition of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation as the sole representative of the Palestinian people.

Since Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, the Islamist movement has been at odds with Mr Abbas’s secular Fatah bloc, which administers Palestinian-run areas of the West Bank that Israel has controlled since 1967.

Hamas and PIJ have repeatedly refused to allow the PLO, which is led by Hamas’s rival faction Fatah, to take the lead on managing affairs inside the densely populated enclave.

Following Sunday's meeting, Mr Abbas stressed the importance of unifying behind the PLO, adding that it is unacceptable for any Palestinian to oppose the organisation.

Separation between the various ruling factions in Palestinian territories has made it easier for Israel to attack them individually, Mr Okasha said. “The Palestinians have realised that to stay separated means to be more vulnerable to the aggression of the extremist Israeli government that is in power now,” he added.

A planned presidential election in 2021 was cancelled by Mr Abbas, cited Israel's prevention of voting in East Jerusalem.

However, Hamas has also refused to co-operate with the Palestinian National Authority to hold in elections in the Gaza Strip.

Egypt has hosted repeated rounds of talks between the factions hoping to reach unity, as well as brokering ceasefires between the Israeli security forces and Gaza militants.

“The Egyptian side has exerted a tremendous amount of effort to reconcile the Palestinian groups and it will continue to do so but the ball is in the Palestinians' court and all eyes are on them today to see if they will be able to table their disagreements to hold a presidential election and stand up to Israeli aggression,” Mr Okasha said.

“I think Palestinian factions have also started to confront the fact that there will be little help with their situation from the US or other foreign powers.

“The US might have got a little bit more critical towards Israeli aggression in its public discourse, but such criticisms have little effect on the ground and are little more than lip service.

“The US is clearly still aligned with Israeli interests in the region.”

Updated: July 31, 2023, 5:56 AM