Palestinians miss major deadline for reconciliation bid
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Palestinians miss major deadline for reconciliation bid

Factions trade blame over failure by Hamas to transfer power in Gaza to PA; unity agreement could collapse

Palestinians wave the national flag during a demonstration in Gaza City on December 3, 2017, in support of the reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)
Palestinians wave the national flag during a demonstration in Gaza City on December 3, 2017, in support of the reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have missed a major deadline in their reconciliation bid by failing to transfer power in the Gaza Strip, with the rivals on Monday trading accusations of blame.

US President Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has further complicated an already difficult attempt to transfer power in Gaza from Islamist terror movement Hamas back to the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The Gaza Strip and West Bank have seen protests and clashes each day since Trump’s declaration on Wednesday, with Hamas urging a new intifada, although the size of the protests has steadily declined since some 5,000 Palestinians demonstrated after midday prayers Friday.

Sunday had been the deadline for the handover, a decade after the Hamas terror group seized power in the Palestinian enclave in a near civil war with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah, based in the West Bank.

An Egyptian-brokered agreement in early October originally set a December 1 deadline for full transfer of power back to the PA, which is dominated by Fatah, though that was later pushed back to December 10.

Fatah’s Azzam al-Ahmad, right, and Saleh al-Arouri of Hamas shake hands after signing a reconciliation deal in Cairo, on October 12, 2017, as the two rival Palestinian movements ended their decade-long split following negotiations overseen by Egypt. (AFP/Khaled Desouki)

In Gaza, the situation was essentially unchanged despite the deadline, with Hamas police still patrolling the streets, while crippling electricity shortages endured.

Hamas claimed on Saturday it had handed over control of all government ministries, but Fatah’s top negotiator later said “obstacles” remained.

PA government spokesman Yousef Mahmud said Monday it had not received full control in key ministries.

In a statement on official PA news agency WAFA, he accused Hamas of seeking to stop the handover.

Fawzy Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, told AFP that Mahmud’s statement was an attempt to “cover up the government’s failure to carry out its duties to the people of Gaza.”

The Palestinians and their backers had hoped that a reconciliation deal could lead to the easing of Israeli and Egyptian blockades on Gaza, reducing the economic hardship of the two million people in the enclave. Israel maintains the blockade is necessary to prevent the smuggling of weapons that could be used to launch attacks on the Jewish state.

Both sides still publicly said they remain committed to the reconciliation, but fears that it could collapse are growing.

‘A dead end’

They appear no closer to an agreement about the future of Hamas’s vast military wing and they must still resolve the issue of two separate civil administrations.

The terror group has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

Abbas has also not yet lifted sanctions against Hamas, including cutting payments for electricity, further worsening an already severe power shortage in Gaza.

There was already little optimism about achieving a full handover by December 10, but Trump’s announcement has added further complications.

While Fatah has mainly called for wide-scale peaceful protests, Hamas has called for a new intifada against Israel and on Friday urged Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers, and has allowed thousands of Gazans to confront Israeli troops at the Gaza border fence in recent days. Its leader Ismail Haniyeh on Friday praised the “blessed intifada,” urged the liberation of Jerusalem, and made plain the group was seeking to intensify violence against Israel.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Four Palestinians in Gaza, including two Hamas fighters, were killed either in clashes with Israeli forces or by Israeli air strikes in retaliation for rocket fire on southern Israeli communities on Friday.

Palestinians survey the damage at a military facility belonging to the Hamas terror group in Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip early on December 9, 2017, following an Israeli air strike in response to Gazan rocket fire. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Naji Sharab, political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said Trump’s move made the reconciliation bid harder.

“Some want uprising and others don’t. Some want a military escalation and some don’t,” he told AFP. “With the Jerusalem issue, they cannot continue.”

Jamal al-Fadi, a politics professor, said he feared the process could now collapse.

“I believe that in the short term it will hold, but the issue of reconciliation will come back to the top of the agenda considering the needs of the people for solutions.”

“It seems that the process has reached a dead end.”

In an address last Wednesday from the White House, Trump defied worldwide warnings and insisted that after repeated failures to achieve peace a new approach was long overdue, describing his decision to recognize Jerusalem as the seat of Israel’s government as merely based on reality.

The move was hailed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and by leaders across much of the Israeli political spectrum. Trump stressed that he was not specifying the boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in the city, and called for no change in the status quo at the city’s holy sites.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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