The call made by Hamas promises to allow the Palestinian Authority to move the Fatah-controlled PA and Hamas closer towards reconciliation based on the Cairo agreement of 2011. After the failure to implement the 2011 Cairo agreement, Hamas had set up a de facto council of ministers in the Gaza Strip to conduct the work of a government. This de facto cabinet was named the administrative committee.
In order to make this the entry-point for a durable solution both parties would have to compromise on key issues. While Hamas, in dissolving its administrative committee, took considerable steps towards a rapprochement with Fatah, it did not hesitate to present a set of conditions. First, Hamas will not transfer or share security control over the Gaza Strip with the PA and insists to continue exerting control over Gaza’s security. Second, Hamas has stated that civil servants that were hired by Hamas will have to stay in office even after Fatah assumes governmental responsibilities in the Gaza Strip. Third, the immediate holding of presidential and legislative elections which has been one of the pitfalls of previous talks and agreements.
Hamas and Fatah had signed an Egyptian sponsored agreement in 2011 in Cairo to end hostilities and conduct presidential and legislative elections within a year. Both sides agreed on establishing an interim government in the meantime. The Cairo agreement was followed by the signing of the Doha declaration in 2012 in Qatar by Hamas and Fatah-representatives which called for the formation of a technocratic national reconciliation government under Abbas and for preparations to be made for presidential and legislative elections. A later agreement in 2012 in Cairo and a reconciliation agreement in 2014, when a unity government under Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah was formed, never got fully implemented and did often not go beyond lip service. With the recent dissolution of the administrative committee in Gaza, Hamas appears to demonstrate its willingness to take concrete steps.
Following a series of talks between Hamas and Fatah, last Sunday´s announcement comes after a significant amount of groundwork that was laid down. Most notably, Hamas representatives have been involved in intense and elongated conversations with Egyptian intelligence officials intermittently over the past weeks. After the announcement Hamas and Fatah heavily praised the role of the Egyptian government. Interestingly, Hamas seems to continue its rapprochement with Cairo at a time when the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf region has forced Hamas’ ally Qatar to distance itself from the movement. It is due to the pressure on Qatar imposed by the Gulf States that Hamas had to manage a considerable loss in financial support and find other allies like Egypt.
After months of escalating crises conditions in the Gaza Strip the Hamas-controlled home of two million Palestinians has been suffering from serious power shortages that have reduced the availability of electricity in the Strip to phases of a few hours every day. Moreover, the PA-imposed cuts in the salaries of PA-employed civil servants illustrate the deteriorating conditions that have started with Israel’s blockade of the Strip in 2007.
Most Palestinian factions welcomed the steps taken by Hamas with euphoric praise, while some remained refrained in their praise, as they feared it might meet the fate of previous rapprochements. However, in an attempt to dispel the doubts of the Palestinian public and political elites President Mahmoud Abbas expressed his government’s and party’s desire for implementation. On Wednesday, President Abbas chose no smaller venue than the UN General Assembly Hall in New York to praise the role played by Egypt. Perhaps more importantly, the President announced in the same seminal speech that the government will be taking over the administrative duties of the Gaza Strip starting at the end of this week.
Considering all previous positions and statements, there seems to be an environment in which all parties long for a solution to the inner-Palestinian conflict. While the urgency, tone and general discourse surrounding the announcement all seem familiar, Hamas strikes a new tone in taking concrete steps and dissolving its administrative committee. This came on the back of a series of intense efforts by Egypt, that were not only able to break the deadlock of bi-lateral Fatah-Hamas talks, but coincidentally are also well-equipped to alleviate some of the pressures caused by the blockade and accommodate the Hamas leadership. It remains to be seen what solution will be reached for dealing with Hamas’ security apparatus in the Gaza Strip. It also remains to be seen what can be done to accommodate the salaries of public sector employees hired by Hamas since the schism started in 2007. Finally, it remains to be seen if all parties will commit in a way that prevents the dialogue from collapsing as others did before.