Hamas to dissolve Gaza government for PA to take over

Announcement follows talks in Cairo between Hamas, Egypt and Fatah delegations

Masked youth cadets of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, hold Kalashnikov assault rifles at a march in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis on September 15th, 2017. Photograph: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

Masked youth cadets of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, hold Kalashnikov assault rifles at a march in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis on September 15th, 2017. Photograph: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

 

Hamas has agreed to dissolve its governing body in the Gaza Strip, allow the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) government to take over in its place and hold general elections in Gaza and the West Bank.

The dramatic announcement by the Islamist group came after a week of talks in Cairo between a senior Hamas delegation and Egyptian officials who have been trying to end the bitter feud between Hamas and the PA, controlled by president Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement. A Fatah delegation joined the discussions over the last few days.

“We call for the creation of a national unity government as part of a dialogue in which all Palestinian factions will participate,” the Hamas announcement said. “We are willing to accept the Egyptian plea for dialogue with Fatah regarding a mechanism for implementation of the 2011 Cairo agreement,” referring to an inter-Palestinian reconciliation agreement.

Since Hamas ousted the Palestinian Authority from Gaza in 2007, Hamas and Fatah have essentially run two separate, parallel governments - one under Hamas control in Gaza, and another PA-led government in the West Bank.

While the two parties have signed a number of reconciliation agreements, they have failed to implement any of them and have continued to crack down on each other’s activists.

Masked youth cadets from the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, march in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis on September 15th, 2017. Photograph: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images
Masked youth cadets from the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamist Hamas movement, march in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Yunis on September 15th, 2017. Photograph: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

Details of the new agreement remain sketchy and it is unclear if Hamas will be willing to put its security forces in Gaza under the control of the PA.

Dire straits

Three wars with Israel, combined with the ongoing economic blockade by Israel and Egypt, have left the Gaza Strip in dire straits.

In recent months, to pressure Hamas to disband its Gaza government, the PA cut the salaries of civil servants in Gaza and reduced payments for fuel, leaving most residents of Gaza with only a few hours of electricity a day. Unemployment is currently more than 40 per cent and half of the population relies on humanitarian aid.

Azzam al-Ahmed, a Fatah participant in the talks, said Hamas and Fatah agreed to meet in Cairo within 10 days, during which time the national unity government should assume responsibility in Gaza.

Fatah vice-chairman Mahmoud al-Aloul welcomed Hamas’s announcement, but said his party was waiting for concrete changes on the ground.

“If the news is correct, that is good and positive,” Mr Aloul said, “but we do not want to act with haste regarding what is being said in the news.”

Fatah said it still needed clarification from Hamas on the handing over of government ministries in Gaza and control of the enclave’s border crossings with Israel and Egypt.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Hamas now expects Mr Abbas to reciprocate in order to advance reconciliation.

“This puts Abbas and Fatah to the real test,” Mr Barhoum said. “Our people are looking for a practical and actual response to achieve its ambitions of national unity and real partnership.”

Political risk

Most opinion polls show Hamas would emerge as the biggest party in the West Bank if elections were held now, and many commentators speculated Mr Abbas would be unwilling to take such a political risk that could result in his ousting from power.

Israeli officials remained silent on the latest developments, but in the past prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu urged the international community to reject any Palestinian unity government that Included Hamas, which refused to recognise Israel.

Mr Abbas is due to meet with US president Donald Trump on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York this week and will presumably need to explain the move to form a unity government with a group which Washington considers a terrorist organisation.