What reconciliation? Hamas, Fatah trade blows

Recent events in Egypt have dealt a sharp blow to Palestinian political rapprochement.

Mideast Israel Palestinians Egypt
Hamas, the rulers of the Gaza Strip, denounced the 'bloody coup' in neighbouring Egypt [AP]

Hebron, Occupied West Bank – Hamas has continued to accuse Fatah of inciting Egyptian military authorities against the Gaza-based group during Egypt’s recent change in leadership.

Hamas announced in an impromptu press conference held last month in Gaza that it had seized documents [Ar] purportedly showing that the Palestinian Authority (PA) embassy in Cairo was spreading “black lies” and “concocted intelligence reports” against Hamas.

Some of the seized documents alleged that Hamas, supposedly in collusion with Egyptian groups, was smuggling weapons, including bombs, into Egypt to further destabilise the country and undermine security.

But Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesperson in Gaza, said the accusations were nothing new, as Fatah had “never given up on its conspiratorial designs against Hamas” following the internecine fighting in 2007 which saw Fatah routed from the Gaza Strip, and Hamas practically shut down in the West Bank.

“Fatah is colluding and conniving with the Sisi regime to spread chaos and insecurity in Gaza. They are trying to imitate the Tamarod [“rebellion”] group in Egypt,” Abu Zuhri told Al Jazeera in a telephone interview.

He also said that Hamas security authorities recently arrested several former Fatah-affiliated Preventive Security officers who had allegedly undergone military training in “a neighbouring country” for the apparent purpose of undermining security in the Gaza Strip.

Fatah, which is the largest faction of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), has vehemently denied the accusations, saying that Hamas was interfering in internal Egyptian affairs and “pushing the Egyptian government, people and media” to harbour hostile attitudes towards Palestinians.

The Ramallah-based group has also promised to carry out “a thorough investigation” into Hamas’ allegations.

However, given the history of mistrust between Fatah and Hamas, it seems unlikely that any inquiry would be satisfactory to both sides.

Contention point

Hamas and Fatah adopted starkly opposite stands vis-à-vis the military coup in Egypt, which saw the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi.

Hamas accuses rival Fatah of smear campaign

Hamas, considered by many the ideological daughter of the Muslim Brotherhood, denounced the “bloody coup” in the strongest terms, calling it “an act of rape” and “a criminal usurpation of the Egyptian people’s will”.

Hamas has also organised rallies and marches throughout the Gaza Strip and in some parts of the West Bank.

The Gaza Strip has been under Hamas’ security control ever since 2007, when Hamas fighters defeated and expelled Fatah militia from the coastal enclave following a brief but bloody confrontation.

The meeting of Palestinian President and PLO Chairman Mahmoud Abbas with the Egyptian interim government coincided with widespread rumours that the PA leadership in Ramallah was considering declaring the Gaza Strip a rogue entity.

Hamas interpreted these reports as a tacit call for the new rulers in Egypt to invade the Gaza Strip, overthrow Hamas and enthrone Fatah in the besieged territory.

Responding to Fatah’s accusations that Hamas was interfering in Egyptian affairs, Abu Zuhri said the allegations were “sheer lies”.

Hamas ought to edge away from the Muslim Brotherhood and realign itself with the Palestinian people and its legitimate leadership.

by Osama Qawasmi, Fatah

“The truth of the matter is that the sullen hostility displayed towards Hamas by the Egyptian coup-makers and their media outlets emanates from their deep hatred of the Islamist movement in Egypt,” he said. “In the final analysis, the rumoured interference by Hamas in internal Egyptian affairs is no more than a red herring, reflecting the coup authorities’ failure to bring things under control.”

The Hamas spokesperson admitted though that “vengeful Egyptian measures” were hurting ordinary Gazans.

“They are harassing our people at the airports, they are destroying the tunnels, our ultimate lifeline, they are closing the Rafah border crossing,” Zuhri said. “They are effectively trying to outmatch the Israelis in tormenting and starving our people.”

Fatah reaction

For its part, Fatah does not deny that it is cooperating and coordinating with the authorities in Egypt.

Fatah, however, has been careful to avoid the term “coup” in reference to the present rulers of Egypt. Instead, it refers to the interim leadership as “the legitimate government reflecting the Egyptian people’s will”.

Fatah, a largely secular, nationalist, pro-business movement, insists that cooperation with Egypt is “paramount, indispensable and aimed at serving our people’s interests and their just national cause”.

“No Palestinian government or group or party can alienate Egypt,” Osama Qawasmi, a Fatah spokesman in the West Bank, told Al Jazeera. “Egypt is our ultimate insurance policy as a people and as a national authority.”

He said Hamas was committing political suicide by standing against “the army of Egypt and the people of Egypt”.

“Hamas ought to edge away from the Muslim Brotherhood and realign itself with the Palestinian people and its legitimate leadership,” Qawasmi said.

He denied accusations that Fatah was trying to manipulate the new government in Cairo in order to weaken Hamas.

“We had good ties with the Morsi regime,” Qawasmi said. “We are seeking Palestinian national interests.”

Qawasmi said he hoped stability would return to Egypt – which would help the largest Arab country play a more active role in Arab affairs.

Reconciliation unlikely

Hani al-Masri, a prominent political analyst who is affiliated with neither Fatah nor Hamas, said the recent coup in Egypt dealt a sharp blow to the prospects of national reconciliation between the rival groups.

“Before the coup, reconciliation prospects were very bad,” he said. “Now, they are much worse.”

Al-Masri said that Egypt was unlikely to invade Gaza and overthrow Hamas on Fatah’s behalf.

He added, however, that Hamas ought to refrain from “provoking and alienating the edgy Egyptian authorities”.

“No-one is asking Hamas to abandon its Islamist ideology. Hamas doesn’t have to cast off its skin,” al-Masri said.

“But Hamas must edge away a little from the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas must also refrain from provoking the nervous Egyptian authorities these days. Even in Islamic jurisprudence ‘necessities make certain prohibitions permissible’.”

Al-Masri said he did not think that Fatah was in a position to reclaim Gaza by use of military force.

“Fatah is undergoing a period of political bankruptcy, as the moribund peace process with Israel is going nowhere,” he said. “But Hamas’ fears have increased, and so have Fatah’s ambitions – especially in the aftermath of the coup in Cairo.”


Source: Al Jazeera