Palestinian unity deal in doubt as key deadline nears

 29 Nov 2017 - 19:35

Palestinian unity deal in doubt as key deadline nears
Government employees of the Palestinian Authority gather to return to work at the headquarters of the Palestinian Finance Ministry in Gaza City on November 29, 2017. AFP / Mohammed Abed


Gaza City, Palestinian Territories:  A landmark Palestinian unity deal faltered dangerously on Wednesday as a key deadline to implement it drew near, with Fatah and Hamas accusing each other of not respecting the accord.

The accusations came with Hamas due to hand over all governing duties in the Gaza Strip to the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) by Friday, a move that would end the Islamist movement's decade-long control of the territory.

But sharp disagreements remained between Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah, based in the occupied West Bank, and Hamas, particularly over the fate of public employees in Gaza and security control of the enclave.

Fatah's top negotiator, Azzam al-Ahmad, told AFP that Hamas was "not committed" to the October 12 accord mediated by Egypt.

"Hamas is not committed to the agreement it signed in Cairo to end the division," Ahmad said.

"Until this moment, the problems and obstacles from Hamas are still there and are increasing."

In response, senior Hamas official Bassem Naim told AFP: "The leadership of the Palestinian Authority and Fatah insist on continuing manoeuvres and has not committed to implementing the reconciliation agreement."

Earlier Wednesday, in another sign of tension ahead of the deadline, PA employees were prevented by union delegates close to Hamas from returning to work at a number of ministries in the Gaza Strip.

Fatah and Hamas traded accusations over the incident.

A Hamas spokesman said the PA carried "responsibility for causing chaos and confusion", adding that it was violating the terms of the deal.

For his part, Ahmad accused Hamas of "creating an employee strike", saying what happened was "fabricated to paralyse the work of ministries".

As tensions built, Abbas ordered an immediate stop to public statements on reconciliation "for the sake of the Palestinian national interest and our relationship with our Egyptian brothers", official news agency WAFA said.

'Very important agreement'

The Cairo deal signed last month is aimed at ending the decade-long feud between Fatah and Hamas.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since seizing it in 2007 in a near civil war with Fatah, leaving the Palestinians with two separate administrations.

A first deadline under the accord was met, with Hamas handing control of Gaza's borders to the PA on November 1.

But more difficult issues remain, and a number of previous attempts at reconciliation have failed.

After the 2007 power shift, the PA continued to pay around 60,000 staff in Gaza, despite the vast majority not working.

Hamas has hired around 50,000 civil servants to replace them in the past decade, and the fate of those staff members is a key sticking point, with unions insisting on a settlement.

On Tuesday, Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah called on employees of the cash-strapped PA to return to their former jobs in the Gaza Strip, with Hamas criticising the move.

The reconciliation agreement stipulates they have until February to find a solution for the Gaza employees, which could include merging the two civil services.

The future of Hamas's powerful armed wing is another key dispute between the parties, with the Islamist group refusing to disarm.

Nickolay Mladenov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, encouraged the factions to press ahead Wednesday after meetings with Egyptian officials in Gaza overseeing the reconciliation process.

"The agreement that was reached in Cairo is a very important agreement," he told journalists.

"It provides a good framework through which to bring the West Bank and Gaza back under a single legitimate Palestinian Authority."

Mladenov also expressed hope that the agreement would lead to an easing of humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, which suffers from a lack of basic services such as electricity and clean water.

"I hope that in the next few days, as the talks continue, they will be successful and that in December, the factions Hamas and Fatah will meet again in Cairo under the auspices of Egypt to make sure that the implementation of the Cairo agreement remains on schedule," he said.