London / Gaza, Asharq Al-Awsat – Amid disagreements, including disagreements over the nature of the meeting, Hamas and Fatah are set to meet in Damascus today to discuss the security issue that represents the last obstacle in the path to ending Palestinian division and signing the Egyptian reconciliation document.
Whilst Hamas has called this meeting “a crucial round of dialogue” Fatah has described it – according to senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed who will also be heading the Fatah delegation to Damascus – “a meeting to address reservations on security issues in the Egyptian reconciliation document.”
Azzam Al-Ahmed, who was preparing to travel to Damascus from Amman told Asharq Al-Awsat yesterday that “it is better for this meeting to be called a meeting to address reservations…for we will listen to Hamas’s reservations over the security issue in the Egyptian reconciliation document, and we will put forward our own reservations, and we hope to reach a common understanding over their reservations and our reservations, in order to later listen to the reservations of the other [Palestinian] factions.”
In response to a question about Hamas’s designation of this meeting as being “dialogue” al-Ahmed told Asharq Al-Awsat that “we are not in need of new dialogue”. He added that “I hope that we are traveling to Damascus with a strong will to end the Palestinian division which only serves the occupation and the enemies of the people of Palestine.”
Al-Ahmed also expressed his wish that “there is the [same] momentum that prevailed during the previous 24 September meeting, especially as we are not entering new dialogue. The issue of security is first and foremost governed by the law, as is the case throughout the world, and it is not governed by a quota system between the [security] forces and the [political] parties.”
He added “this issue does not require long discussion, but rather honest intentions. We in the Fatah movement have many reservations about what was put forward in the Egyptian reconciliation document on the issue of security, and despite this we agreed to it. We do not see any reason for Hamas or anybody else to refuse to sign [this agreement]. The law is the law, not a quota system.”
Al-Ahmed added that “it is up to everybody, and particularly Hamas…to sign the Egyptian reconciliation document as it is. I am certain that intentions are the basis….let us leave all manifestations of our division behind us.”
Asharq Al-Awsat obtained a statement made by a high-ranking Palestinian security source. In this document, the source confirmed that “Civil Service Law No. 8 of 2005 is the one that specifies the number of security services, their references, and organizes their operations. The rebuilding of the security services only applies to the Gaza Strip following the Hamas coup and accompanying destruction of security facilities, as well as the demobilization of all security service officials, which was followed by the Israeli destruction of what was left of the security headquarters.”
The anonymous source also said “restructuring the security services will take place according to the Civil Service Law concerning Security Services, after these are reconstructed in the Gaza Strip, away from politics and quota system, for this is the security of all Palestinians, and the security systems is one of the national and sovereign symbols [of Palestine].”
The source also said that “what is defined as security and protection forces are not stipulated by the law, and are not part of the security establishment, and this means that they are not listed in the law as being formal or legal [security apparatus].” The statement added that Mahmoud Abbas, as President of the Palestinian Authority is the Commander-in-Chief of the armed and security services, and that there can only be one authority and leadership in the security hierarchy.
Asharq Al-Awsat also learnt that Palestinian parties put forward a number of compromises to Fatah and Hamas as an acceptable solution to the dispute over security, particularly with regards to the issue of a “security partnership.” One such formula was for former members of the security services that were operating in the Gaza Strip prior to the Hamas coup to be integrated along with members of the Hamas security in the new security force, whilst the Palestinian Authority security force in the West Bank would remain the same.
Palestinian sources have questioned the ability of a compromise such as this in bridging the gap between Hamas and Fatah on the basis that there remains a number of detailed issues that have not been covered by the Egyptian reconciliation document, such as the number of people working for security services and their responsibilities. The source also pointed to a fundamental difference in the manner in which Fatah and Hamas deal with armed groups, and whether armed groups will be allowed to operate against Israel following reconciliation.
The source clarified that the basis for the complexity of this security issue can largely be traced back to the absence of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas over the political file. The source stressed that the deep division between Hamas and Fatah in the political arena will affect the security situation and that at a time when Hamas considers security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel as “treasonous and unacceptable” Fatah considers this to be part of its international obligations. The source added that even in the understanding reached between Hamas and Fatah over the Palestinian Liberation Organization [PLO] this remains a fragile and loose understanding that allows both parties to interpret it as they like. The source added that implementing what was agreed upon could result in an explosive situation.
The source also pointed out that Hamas and Fatah did not reach an agreement on when and how elections would be held. He stressed that in light of the absence of a detailed and comprehensive political understanding between the two parties, the chances of the Damascus meeting succeeding in achieving Palestinian reconciliation are slim