Declan Walsh and David Halbfinger
Cairo: After a decade of hostility and recrimination, the two main Palestinian factions have come together in Cairo to sign a reconciliation deal that holds out the tantalising prospect of a united Palestinian front.
Hopes for the agreement, signed under the watchful eye of Egyptian intelligence on Thursday, were tempered by the knowledge that many previous Palestinian initiatives have failed. Yet there is optimism that this time may be different, partly because the stakes are so much higher.
For the 2 million Palestinians of Gaza, trapped in a tiny coastal strip that is frequently compared to an open-air prison, the Cairo deal offered a potential respite from their lives of dire shortages of electricity and lifesaving medicine, as well as a chance to travel to the outside world.
For the Palestinian leadership, it held out the prospect of negotiating with Israel with a single voice, even as it forced the divided territory’s most radical militants to make painful concessions that acknowledged their own failure to advance their cause.
Hamas, which controls Gaza and has fought Israel three times, said it was ready to cede control of Gaza’s borders and allow the rival Palestinian Authority to effectively take over the day-to-day running of the territory.
It was a sobering reality check for a group that, despite years of fiery defiance and arms supplies from Iran, cannot rule Gaza without help from Fatah, the rival faction that controls the Palestinian Authority and was driven out of Gaza in violent clashes 10 years ago.
And for Mahmoud Abbas, the 82-year-old President of the Palestinian Authority, it could amount to a legacy-saving moment in the twilight years of his rule, after years of abject failure to negotiate a peace settlement with Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his country “objects to any reconciliation that does not include” accepting international agreements, recognising Israel and disarming Hamas. A Fatah-Hamas rapprochement would make “peace much harder to achieve”, Netanyahu said in a post on Facebook. “Reconciling with mass-murderers is part of the problem, not part of the solution.”
The Palestinians did not release the text of the agreement, and there was no mention of the thorny issues that remain unresolved, such as the fate of the main Hamas militia, or the network of tunnels under Gaza used by fighters and weapons smugglers.
New York Times