Hamas, Fatah agree on tentative steps toward reconciliation

Sides determine who will control Gaza crossing, commit to national unity government and elections

Hamas and Fatah reached a tentative agreement to push ahead with new elections and a mechanism for manning the Gaza border with Egypt after two days of reconciliation talks.

One senior Palestinian source said he was “a little optimistic” after the meetings in Doha, Qatar, the AFP news agency reported Tuesday.

The sides pledged to form a national unity government, to lay the groundwork for long-overdue presidential and legislative elections, and to renew their commitment to earlier accords which were signed but not implemented, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.

The two sides also agreed that Fatah’s Presidential Guard would take charge of the Rafah crossing in Gaza, with Hamas staff continuing to work there too.

The draft must now be taken to the leadership of the two rival Palestinian factions for approval.

The two rivals for Palestinian leadership — Fatah, which governs in the West Bank and the Islamist Hamas which controls Gaza — have been at loggerheads almost constantly since Hamas won elections in the Palestinian Authority in 2006 and subsequently staged a violent takeover of Gaza. Fatah continues to control the West Bank, which is administered by the Palestinian Authority.

Many meetings have been held over the years and three reconciliation agreements were signed — in Qatar, Cairo and Gaza — but none has led to any real change on the ground.

UN special coordinator on the Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov said he welcomed the new steps toward reconciliation and called on the sides to take it further.

“I urge all sides to follow up on these discussions in good faith and implement previous agreements, in particular those brokered by Egypt. The formation of a National Unity Government that abides by the PLO program and the conduct of long-overdue elections are important elements of this process,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

According to the Wafa news agency, the two sides studied “the mechanisms to put in place to bring about effective reconciliation in line with a timetable which is being prepared.”

Once the mechanisms and timetable have been completed, they will have to be adopted by both sides and endorsed by other Palestinian groups, AFP said.

Hamas was represented by its Doha-based head Khaled Mashaal and senior leader Moussa Abu Marzouk while Fatah sent Central Committee members Azzam al-Ahmad and Sakhr Basiso.

Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal at a rally in Hamas's honor in Cape Town, South Africa, October 21, 2015. (AFP/Rodger Bosch)
Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal at a rally in Hamas’s honor in Cape Town, South Africa, October 21, 2015. (AFP/Rodger Bosch)

Just before the meeting, Fatah official Ali Barakeh told the London-based daily A-Sharq Al-Awsat that discussions were to be held on the basis of the Cairo Agreement signed by 14 Palestinian factions in 2011, and the goal was to create a “consensus government” to conduct work in state institutions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has attacked reconciliation efforts in the past, saying PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who is affiliated with Fatah, had to choose between making peace with Israel or with Hamas.

Israel, the US and the European Union view Hamas as a terrorist group.

Qatar is the latest would-be mediator. It stepped into the void after Egypt, which is at odds with Hamas, refused to host meetings between the two rival factions.

Lee Gancman contributed to this report.

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