Before three rockets launched at Beersheba shattered a 24-hour ceasefire extension between Israel and Gaza Tuesday afternoon, two Palestinian movements committed to one another’s destruction met in Cairo in a last minute bid to reach a permanent ceasefire agreement with Israel.
No, this is not the beginning of a bad joke.
The Israeli exposure of a vast Hamas terror network in the West Bank Monday revealed — for those still requiring proof — the deep rift separating Hamas and Fatah, two movements joined together in a unity government in early June and again in a trans-factional negotiation team dispatched to Cairo earlier this month.
According to the Israeli Shin Bet security service, the dozens of Hamas operatives arrested in the West Bank over May and June were not only tasked with igniting a third popular uprising in the territory controlled by the Palestinian Authority, but also with toppling its leader, Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinian president, official news agency Wafa reported, promptly instructed his men to investigate the Israeli allegations. But, giving credence to the information, Abbas said that its “implications for the Palestinian and regional situation will be extremely dangerous.”
“Given the unity government, this new information gravely endangers the unity of the Palestinian people and its future,” he added.
Abbas was no doubt intimately acquainted with the evidence against Hamas before he issued such a damning and dramatic statement.
Meanwhile, as Hamas negotiator Izzat al-Rishq tried on Tuesday to gloss over the divides within the Palestinian camp, new indications emerged of clashes between Hamas and Fatah over the movements’ future role in rebuilding Gaza.
Rishq indicated in an interview with his movement’s daily Al-Resalah that differences existed within the Palestinian delegation regarding the utility of extending the ceasefire with Israel by an additional 24 hours on Tuesday.
“Until the final moments, a large part of the [Palestinian] delegation did not want to extend the ceasefire so that we could clear our conscience and say that we’ve exerted all of our efforts on the diplomatic negotiations,” Rishq said, hinting that he was one of the opponents of extension. “The negotiations have taken a long time,” he added.
Nevertheless, the Hamas official insisted that the Palestinian negotiating team — which includes members of Fatah, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and smaller PLO factions — will remain unified “even after the end of negotiations.”
But some Palestinian officials indicated on Tuesday that differences between Fatah and Hamas are far from just tactical disputes on the length of talks with Israel, but reach to the core question of who will eventually reap the benefits of the latest, devastating round of violence.
From the start of negotiations, Hamas knew Israel was pushing to sign the final ceasefire agreement with the Palestinian Authority, shunning the Islamist movements that effectively control the Gaza Strip. For that reason, Hamas indicated its preference for the mediation services of Qatar and Turkey — its political backers — rather than those of Egypt, its newest avowed enemy.
With that gambit having collapsed early in the game, Hamas turned its sights on the day after an agreement is reached: the reconstruction of Gaza. Rather than have Israel deal directly with the Palestinian Authority on the multi-billion-dollar project, Hamas has called for the establishment of a “national body” to assist the PA in that task, as well as in administering the passage of people and products through the border crossing with Israel, the Saudi-owned daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat reported.
Hamas’s demands were “new and surprising,” an unnamed Palestinian official told the paper, and “complicated the task of the delegation” in Cairo. Hamas, for its part, explained to the other delegates that the PA could never possibly take up the reconstruction efforts alone.
“This is further proof that the [Hamas] movement thinks only about its own interests and the interests of its allies,” sources in Ramallah told A-Sharq Al-Awsat. Apparently Abbas is not one of Hamas’s allies.
As rockets from Gaza rained down once again on Israel’s south in the midst of a supposed truce Tuesday, it was initially unclear whether it was just Hamas’s way of showing it’s had enough of negotiations with Israel, or whether it was being bypassed by one of the other numerous armed factions in Gaza that have voiced frustration with Israel’s perceived procrastination. Later, though, Hamas acknowledged that it had resumed rocket attacks.
One thing is for certain: When Abbas meets Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal in Qatar Thursday, they will have much to discuss.