US Says Palestinian Unity Cabinet Must Recognize Israel, Hamas Snaps Back

US President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations said Thursday that an emerging Palestinian unity government must recognize Israel and disarm Hamas movement.

Jason Greenblatt, who has repeatedly visited the region to seek ways to restart peace talks, laid out a series of conditions in Washington’s first detailed response to the landmark reconciliation deal signed between Hamas and Fatah last week. 

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognize the state of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties -– including to disarm terrorists — and commit to peaceful negotiations,” Greenblatt said in a statement.

“If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements,” he added.

But his statement drew an immediate retort from Hamas.

Bassem Naim, an official from the movement, rejected the comments as “blatant interference” in Palestinian affairs, but did not say directly whether the group planned to comply with any of the demands.

Naim accused the US of adopting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions.

“This is blatant interference in Palestinian affairs because it is the right of our people to choose its government according to their supreme strategic interests,” Naim told AFP.

“This statement comes under pressure from the extreme right-wing Netanyahu government and is in line with the Netanyahu statement from two days ago.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement signed a reconciliation deal with Hamas in Cairo a week ago aimed at ending a bitter 10-year split.

Under the deal, the Palestinian Authority – currently dominated by Fatah – is due to resume control of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip by December 1.

Talks are also expected on forming a unity government, with another meeting between the various Palestinian political factions scheduled for November 21.

A major sticking point is expected to be Hamas’ refusal to disarm its 25,000-strong armed wing.

Palestinian Authority to Take Control of Gaza Crossings in November

Gaza

Leading member of the Hamas movement, Saleh al-Arouri, announced on Saturday that the Palestinian Authority will be handed control of the Gaza Strip crossings in early November.

Arouri was part of the delegation that signed the reconciliation with the Fatah group in Cairo on Thursday.

The Gaza crossings was a thorny issues at the talks because Hamas has had control of them for the past ten years.

Arouri told al-Quds newspaper that Hamas and Fatah agreed to hold “deep and detailed” discussions in Gaza between security officials from both factions.

The security forces in Gaza will remain as they are until an agreement is reached over a mechanism to merge them, he explained. This will help avoid any “security vacuum.”

The reconciliation called for the merger of the security and police forces in Gaza and the West Bank in a manner that would ensure their unity and that they adhere to the Interior Ministry.

Asked if the agreement means that Hamas will abandon its armed resistance, Arouri replied: “Partnership means partnership in decisions of war and peace.”

Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip after bloody clashes with Fatah in 2007.

On September 17, Hamas dissolved the administrative committee that had taken over the role of the government in Gaza to pave the way for the return of the Palestinian cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah, to the coastal strip.

The Cairo-sponsored reconciliation, signed on October 12, is expected to end the ten-year divide between the two factions.

The agreement calls for forming a national unity government and preparing for holding legislative and presidential elections. It also calls for establishing joint committees to take in the 45,000 civil and military employees Hamas hired at public institutions.

Saudi Arabia Welcomes Hamas, Fatah Reconciliation Deal

Saudi Arabia welcomed the reconciliation of rival factions Hamas and Fatah and said it will help Palestinians to gain their legitimate rights, the state news agency SPA reported on Friday.

Citing an official source in the kingdom’s foreign ministry, SPA said Saudi Arabia hopes the reconciliation will “realize the brotherly Palestinian people’s hope of ending divisions and achieving unity”.

According to Reuters, Hamas and Fatah signed the reconciliation agreement on Thursday after Hamas agreed to hand over administrative control of Gaza, including the key Rafah border crossing, a decade after seizing the enclave in a civil war.

The deal brokered by Egypt bridges a bitter gulf between the Western-backed mainstream Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas, a movement designated as a terrorist group by Western countries.

Palestinian unity could also bolster Abbas’s hand in any revival of talks on a Palestinian state in Israeli-occupied territory. Internal Palestinian strife has been a major obstacle to peacemaking, with Hamas having fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and continuing to call for its destruction.

Hamas’s agreement to transfer administrative powers in Gaza to a Fatah-backed government marked a major reversal, prompted partly by its fears of financial and political isolation after its main patron and donor, Qatar, plunged in June into a major diplomatic dispute with key allies like Saudi Arabia.

Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets across Gaza on Thursday in celebration of the unity pact, with loudspeakers on open cars blasting national songs, youths dancing and hugging and many waving Palestine and Egyptian flags.

Egypt helped mediate several previous attempts to reconcile the two movements and form a power-sharing unity government in Gaza and the West Bank, where Abbas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) are based.

Hamas and Fatah agreed in 2014 to form a national reconciliation government, but the deal soon dissipated in mutual recriminations with Hamas continuing to dominate Gaza.

Israel’s Lieberman: Next War Will Take Place on 3 Fronts

Lieberman

Tel Aviv – Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced on Tuesday that the next war his country wages will most likely take place on three fronts at the same time.

He explained that the northern front will no longer be limited to a war against the “Hezbollah” group in Lebanon, but it will also encompass Syria.

“In the next war in the north of the country, Lebanon will not be the only front,” Lieberman said in a speech to soldiers.

Lebanon and Syria would constitute “one front” against his country, he explained, while making implicit threats to the Lebanese government and army.

The minister added that the Lebanese army had lost “its independence by becoming an integral part of ‘Hezbollah’.”

Lieberman evoked the possibility of a simultaneous conflict in the north and in the south with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

“The battle will take place on the northern and southern fronts,” he said.

“There is no longer war on one front. It’s our basic assumption and it is what our military is preparing for.”

He stated however that his country was exerting great efforts to prevent a new war, but given the “new Middle East, chances of avoiding such a conflict are slim.”

“We have to prepare for any possible scenario, because the new reality presents us with new challenges. In the past, we used to speak of a Lebanese front, but this is no longer the case,” continued Lieberman.

The new northern front now includes Lebanon and Syria, he stressed.

“I hope that our enemies on the other side would think very well before making any move against Israel,” warned the minister.

Azzam al-Ahmed: Egypt Exerted Unprecedented Efforts towards Palestinian Reconciliation

Fatah

Cairo – Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed voiced his optimism that the latest round of Egypt-sponsored dialogue with the rival Hamas group would lead to an end to Palestinian division.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “Egypt has made unprecedented efforts towards the reconciliation file due to the changing regional and international political stances.”

The dialogue between Fatah and Hamas kicked off in Cairo on Tuesday.

An informed source predicted to Asharq Al-Awsat that they will last two to three days.

Ahmed, who heads the Fatah delegation at the Cairo talks, revealed that one of his group’s priorities is enabling the Palestinian government to manage its affairs in Ramallah, Gaza and Khan Younes.

He explained however that this process will not take place overnight.

Hamas has meanwhile focused its energies on lifting Palestinian Authority (PA) “sanctions” against it in Gaza.

Hussam Badran, who is part of the Hamas delegation at the Cairo talks, said on Tuesday that the movement is keen on resolving the repercussions and negative effects of the division on Gaza.

“The Palestinians guarantee the achievement of the reconciliation. We are waiting for national factions to play their role to that end and we are communicating with all sides. We are prepared to listen to any criticism and advice,” he continued.

A Fatah official in Cairo, Samih Barzaq, told Asharq Al-Awsat that the “unprecedented” measures taken by the PA against Gaza employees will be lifted “very soon”.

The PA had in the past few months cut the salaries of several Gaza employees and sacked a number of others in an attempt to pressure Hamas to return the coastal strip back under the control of the Palestinian government.

Hamas had seized control of the Gaza Strip after armed clashes with Fatah in 2007.

Hamas had declared in September its readiness for reconciliation with Fatah in a bid to end the Palestinian division. This includes holding general elections.

Barzaq said that PA President Mahmoud Abbas will commit to the democratic results of the elections.

“No one inside or outside of the Palestinian territories can object to the results because whoever wins them will be a Palestinian and he would have won through the votes of his fellow citizens,” he stressed.

On Tuesday, the Palestinian cabinet held its annual meeting chaired by Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah during which it addressed his visit to Gaza last week.

The cabinet expressed its readiness to assume all duties in Gaza with the approval of concerned factions.

Hamas Names Formerly Turkey-Based Commander as New Deputy Chief

The Palestinian Gaza-ruling group Hamas named as its new deputy chief on Thursday a formerly Turkey-based commander Saleh al-Arouri.

Israel has accused Arouri of orchestrating a lethal triple kidnapping that helped trigger the 2014 Gaza war in 2014 during which Israeli strikes, Palestinian rocket attacks and the ground fighting resulted in the death of thousands of people, the vast majority of them Gazans

Saleh al-Arouri’s promotion comes as Hamas seeks to close ranks with US-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas after a decade-old rift, in an entente Israel says will not revive peace talks unless Hamas recognizes its right to exist and disarms.

Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah had chaired the first meeting of the Palestinian cabinet in the Gaza Strip for three years on Tuesday, in a move toward reconciliation between the mainstream Fatah party and Hamas.

The Palestinian Information Centre, a Hamas-linked news site, said Arouri, who was born in the occupied West Bank and was exiled by Israel in 2010 after long stints in its prisons, had been elected as deputy to the group’s leader Ismail Haniyeh.

The Washington Post cited a federal indictment stating that Arouri has been a “high-ranking Hamas military leader dating back to his role as a Hamas student cell leader at Hebron University in the early 1990s.” There, he studied sharia law and the following year was elected leader of the Islamic Faction at the university.

After three Israeli teens were abducted and killed in the West Bank in June 2014, Arouri – then in Istanbul – claimed responsibility in the name of Hamas.

Israel responded with a West Bank security sweep which, along with the revenge killing of a Palestinian youth from Jerusalem by a group of Israelis, spiraled into a 50-day war in the Gaza Strip, Hamas’ fiefdom. Gaza health officials say 2,100 Palestinians were killed in the conflict, while Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.

Israel also pressed Ankara’s government to crack down on Arouri, describing him as the mastermind of the kidnappings and other Hamas militant attacks.

Hamas sources said Arouri left Turkey in late 2015 for Qatar and later Lebanon. They declined to give his current location.

Gaza Opens its Doors after Years of Deprivation

Gaza’s leadership finally welcomed the Palestinian Authority with arms wide open to end their dispute.

This is a very important political and humanitarian agreement credited for the government of Egyptian President Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, the first in a decade who succeeded in doing so.

If the deal’s implementation went as planned, and Ramallah and Gaza’s leaders cooperated, one of the worst politicians-made humanitarian disasters would be over.

There is no doubt that Gaza’s leaders, who were drawn into Qatar’s adventures and Iran’s exploitation, are responsible for the dark stage.

For ten painful years the densely populated strip suffered, and its people witnessed devastating wars having no political objectives. The factions in the enclave fought with extremists and radicals.

Trade was banned, tunnels were blocked, swimming in the sea was forbidden, and fishermen were constrained.

The suffering began when the airport, symbol of peace promise and better future, was closed.

Most of Gaza’s news became about the crossing point, and when it would be open for humanitarian cases.

The people’s suffering was neither a national duty nor a political necessity. It was rather a nonsensical disagreement and personal rivalry over leadership.

Not until the new agreement goes into full effect for weeks and months, will we be certain that it will last. However, this remains the best thing that has happened in years.

Can Rami Hamdallah’s government run the enclave and coexist with Hamas simultaneously? Will disagreements be forgotten and replaced by a cooperation that shall unite the strip back with the West Bank?

Many old reasons make this a difficult task, and even if it succeeds today, it might not last.

Gaza’s return to Ramallah is an important sign on the Palestinian leadership’s ability to speak on behalf of all Palestinians.

The reconciliation puts an end to Israel’s rejection of peace claiming that “Hamas,” “Islamic Jihad”, and other armed opposition movements thwarted past attempts for peace.

Reconciliation opens the door to any international desire to launch a new initiative.

Even if a serious peace plan is not produced, at least it will be possible to reform the internal Palestinian situation shattered by conflicts over authority.

Egypt’s return is an important new peace factor. It was responsible for sponsoring the Gaza Strip, hadn’t it been for the Qatari-Iranian interventions that struck Egypt’s role, created a wall of fear and closed the strip.

During the 10 years of intra-Palestinian conflict, Egypt tried to mediate but failed. However, this is the first time we see a sign of hope in ending the conflict between two brothers.

Sincere intentions are required so that the authority isn’t tempted into total domination, nor does it become a victim of Hamas’ deception to open the crossings in order to overcome the crisis, provide its needs, and then return to disagreement and estrangement.

Reconciliation and the opening of Gaza may be the door to regional stability and a sign of an end to regional chaos.

Palestinian PM Chairs Cabinet Session in Gaza

Hamas

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah convened a cabinet meeting in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip for the first time in three years.

This marks a major step towards reconciliation between the mainstream Fatah party and Islamist group Hamas.

“Today, we stand before an important, historical moment as we begin to get over our wounds, put our differences aside and place the higher national interest above all else,” Hamdallah said.

Tuesday’s meeting in Gaza took place at the residence of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in 2007 in fighting with Fatah forces loyal to Abbas and has ruled the impoverished desert enclave of two million people since then.

The cabinet session was the first in Gaza since 2014, Hamdallah told his ministers, and a major step in a reconciliation process promoted by neighboring Egypt and other US-allied Arab countries.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meeting legislators from his right-wing Likud party, said the Palestinians were engaging in “fictitious reconciliations” and he referred to Iranian funding for Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

“The way we see it is very simple: Recognize the State of Israel, dismantle the Hamas military wing, cut the ties to Iran, which calls for our destruction,” he said in remarks broadcast on Army Radio.

Abbas told Egyptian TV station CBC on Monday there could be only ”one state, one regime, one law and one weapon” in the Gaza Strip, reiterating a long-held position that security should be in the hands of only the Palestinian Authority (PA), which he heads, and that the PA must control border crossing points.

Both Israel and Egypt – whose intelligence chief arrived in Gaza to meet Hamas leaders, Hamdallah and officials from other Palestinian factions – maintain a partial blockade of Gaza, citing security concerns.

The Palestinian premier arrived in Gaza on Monday with armed guards and an entourage of West Bank officials to a hero’s welcome from about 2,000 people.

“The only way to statehood is through unity,” Hamdallah told the crowd. “We are coming to Gaza again to deepen the reconciliation and end the split.”

He also said the reconciliation will require “hard efforts, time, patience, and wisdom.”

Huge posters of Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, who brokered the reconciliation effort, were featured outside Abbas’ residence as Hamas policemen were deployed all around.

Egyptian intelligence chief Khaled Fawzy was set to visit Gaza later on Tuesday for meetings with both sides and carrying a letter from Sisi. It would mark the highest ranking Egyptian official to visit Gaza since 2007.

Hamdallah’s ministers are expected to begin taking over government ministries after Tuesday’s meeting, with negotiations in Cairo on more difficult issues in the coming weeks.

Palestinian PM Arrives in Gaza in First Step in Reconciliation

Gaza

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah arrived in the Gaza Strip on Monday in what is seen as a major step towards ending the decade-long rift between Fatah and Hamas, which seized control of the coastal strip in 2007.

Hamdallah drove through the Israeli Erez crossing, heading a large delegation of Fatah officials from the West Bank trying to end the dispute.

Hamas announced last week that it was handing over administrative control of the Gaza Strip to a unity government headed by Hamdallah, but the movement’s armed wing remains the dominant power in the enclave of two million people.

Hamas’s reversal was the most significant step toward elusive Palestinian unity since the government was formed in 2014. It failed to function in Gaza because of disputes between Hamas and Fatah over its responsibilities.

Analysts said narrowing internal divisions could help Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas counter Israel’s argument that it has no negotiating partner for peace.

A Hamas police honor guard and hundreds of Palestinians, many of them waving Palestinian flags, welcomed Hamdallah outside the Hamas-controlled checkpoint, down the road from the Erez crossing.

“It is a day of Eid, a national holiday,” said Abdel-Majid Ali, 46. “We hope this time reconciliation is for real.”

Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel and the West, made its dramatic reversal toward unity last month, disbanding its Gaza shadow government, after Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates imposed an economic boycott on its main donor, Qatar, over support of terrorism.

Palestinian Government to Visit Gaza on Monday to End Division

Palestinian Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah

Rammallah– Palestinian Authority security forces are laying the final touches for the expected visit of Prime Minister Rami al-Hamdallah to Gaza Strip on Monday. In addition, several engineers and workers are finishing the work needed to prepare the residence of President Maamoud Abbas in Gaza where the government meeting will be held for the first time since 2014.

A security delegation arrived in Gaza from West Bank where a plan will be devised in a rarely-occurring coordination with Hamas’ security forces in Gaza.

The two delegations met to organize the forces and secure Hamdallah’s visit and his accompanying delegation of dozens of ministers and officials.

Security officials from the Palestinian Authority arrived in Gaza to coordinate several topics between the two parties as they attempt to solve the deep rift between them.

Security sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Hamas security forces will secure the streets and the PM and ministers’ residences and the places they are expected to visit.

Hamdallah is expected to arrive in Gaza on Monday, while he will convene his Cabinet next Tuesday. Several bilateral meetings in Egypt between Hamas and Fatah will follow the visit to set a comprehensive plan which includes the formation of unity government and the agreement on elections.

Hamas had previously announced the dissolution of its administrative committee in Gaza. The movement welcomed the government’s visit to the strip.

Hamdallah will arrive in Gaza through Beit Yahoun crossing and will begin his visit with extensive meetings with Hamas leaders and other factions including Hamas’ chief Ismail Haniyyeh and Hamas’ leader in Gaza Yehya Sinwar. He will then tour the strip to oversee the debris and damage done by Israeli forces. The government will then convene in Abbas’ house.

Hamdallah stated that the government formed several ministerial committees to handle the security, crossing points, and handle all issues in the strip including the legal and civil cases that resulted from the division.

However, Hamdallah has several issues to handle, namely the security in Gaza controlled by Hamas and the movement’s former civil servants. But, the problems are expected to be handled calmly and peacefully to ensure the success of the reconciliation.

An Egyptian security delegation will also arrive in Gaza on Monday to ensure the smooth transition of the authority from Hamas’ to Hamdallah’s.

Hamas senior official Mushir al-Masri reiterated the important role of Egypt as a force to help ensure reconciliation.

Speaking at a political seminar, Masri said that division is no longer accepted especially amid the crises in the region and the challenges facing the Palestinian people and cause. He added that the reconciliation is a historic chance to end the rift which all Palestinian parties should seize as an opportunity.

Masri confirmed that the movement is committed to all agreements signed especially that of Cairo 2011. He added that the success of national reconciliation requires free political will that it is not affected by any foreign pressures.