Ramallah, Asharq Al-Awsat – Well-informed Palestinian sources have revealed to Asharq al-Awsat that a state of anger and dissatisfaction prevails among the Palestinian leadership regarding the new Egyptian administration’s dealings with the Palestinian issue, and especially with regards to Palestinian representation and legitimacy.
According to the sources, the Palestinian leadership (President Mahmoud Abbas, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad) are not satisfied with Egypt’s dealings following the election of President Mohammed Mursi. The Egyptian leadership “is dealing with Hamas as if it is the representative of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, ignoring the role of the Palestinian Authority (PA)”. The sources added: “Egypt is negotiating with the Hamas government about security affairs, the Rafah crossing and conditions relating to the people, including issues of electricity, medicine, smuggling tunnels and commercial traffic”.
The Palestinian leadership believes that Egypt’s stance has encouraged other countries, most notably Iran, to invite Hamas to the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summit. However, this invite was subsequently retracted by Tehran since it contravened the Movement’s protocols that stipulate dealings must be conducted with heads of state only, and that host nations cannot invite any country outside the framework of the NAM secretariat.
Palestinian anger towards Egypt seems clear and explicit in the statement issued by Salam Fayyad, on the subject of the Iranian invite that increased the Palestinian tension prior to Tehran’s retraction. Fayyad said: “Unfortunately, this hostile Iranian position benefited from some recently-emerging trends dealing with Hamas as the representative of the Palestinian people of the Gaza Strip. Followers of this trend claim they do not want to take sides when it comes to Palestinian parties, as if the PA was one of numerous sides rather than being an umbrella for all the Palestinian people and factions both in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip”.
Despite the fact that Fayyad does not refer specifically to Egypt, his statement uses language that clearly accuses the Egyptians, who have always said they stand at an equal distance from Hamas and Fatah.
President Mursi was the most recent head of state to receive the Prime Minister of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh. They discussed security issues, the Rafah crossing, the electricity crisis and the establishment of a free trade zone, with Egypt making promises to implement what the two men had agreed upon. Afterwards, Mursi telephoned Haniyeh during Eid-ul-Fitr to congratulate him and offer his reassurances regarding the conditions of the Gaza residents, thereby implying that the new Egyptian leadership saw Hamas as the legitimate representative of the Gaza people, and that Cairo had moved closer to it than the PA, thus prompting alarm bells to ring in Ramallah. Fayyad believes this is unacceptable, and claims that mere equality between Hamas and the PA diminishes the legitimacy of the latter and its representation, which is also unacceptable.
The sources said: “No faction, group or family can carry out a coup in part of the country and then insist that we and others deal with it as part of the country’s representation”. Yet while the PA refuses to recognize the Hamas government, this does not prevent it dealing with the Gaza Strip as part of the homeland. The PA allocates more than half its budget to Gaza to pay for salaries, electricity, water and medicine.
Both Abbas and Fayyad have rejected calls in the past to stop providing support to the Gaza Strip, with intellectuals and officials arguing that the money goes mostly to Hamas. For its part, Hamas regards this support as the duty of the PA, and sometimes accuses it of participating in the siege of the Gaza Strip.
Yet Fayyad stresses that the relationship with Gaza is an inseparable one and not based on financial considerations. He claims that no Palestinian state could be founded without Gaza.
Fayyad believes that every day that passes without practical steps to achieve reconciliation [between Fatah and Hamas] contributes towards Gaza becoming a distinct entity, and two weeks ago he hinted that the Strip had begun to be characterized by distinct features.