Cairo calling

Print edition : February 08, 2013

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi (right), with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt, on January 9. Photo: AP

WITH the Muslim Brotherhood coming to power in Egypt, the country seems to be once again trying to reclaim its traditional leadership role in the region. President Mohamed Morsy played a key role in bringing about a ceasefire in the fighting between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip in November. Hamas claimed a diplomatic victory after Israel agreed to a ceasefire after nine days of military assault. The Fatah, which controls the West Bank, too, scored a diplomatic win when it got Palestine recognised as a “non-member state” in the United Nations in the same month.

Hamas, which controls Gaza, is an offshoot of the Brotherhood and has strong institutional links with the leadership based in Cairo. Also playing an important role in the efforts to broker a deal between the Fatah and Hamas is the oil-rich state of Qatar. The emirate has liberally funded both Hamas and the Egyptian government. Qatar has tried for many years to make the two major Palestinian political groupings come together since they split in 2006 when Hamas emerged the unexpected victor in elections held that year in Palestinian territories. The Fatah reached a preliminary reconciliation agreement with Hamas in mid-2011 in Cairo. The Egyptian-brokered agreement envisaged the formation of a unity government in which the Fatah and Hamas shared power. The agreement also suggested the reform of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) to include Hamas and smaller resistance groupings such as the Islamic Jihad.

The two sides, however, failed to follow up on the commitment to unify the leadership in the Palestinian territories.

During the latest round of talks, the leaders of Hamas and the Fatah had separate meetings with the Egyptian President. The Egyptian authorities had hoped that the two leaders, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) President, and Khaled Meshal, the Hamas leader, would meet the Egyptian President jointly. However, the two leaders did meet in Cairo for the first time in more than a year to discuss ways to implement the 2011 agreement.

Both factions sought to play down expectations of a dramatic breakthrough. Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri termed the latest round of talks “exploratory”. The Egyptian government, however, continued to remain optimistic. Egyptian officials said the talks were held in a “positive spirit” and added that the rival factions would meet again in the first week of February.

The task will not be easy as the two parties have markedly different views on the issue of dealing with Israel. Hamas, unlike the Fatah, refuses to recognise Israel. The Fatah swears by the Oslo accords and wants a negotiated solution to the issue of Palestinian statehood. A senior Hamas leader in Gaza accused the Fatah leadership of stalling the reconciliation process because the P.A. hoped to restart talks with Israel after the January 22 parliamentary elections there.

John Cherian