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Egypt is not an honest broker for Palestinian reconciliation

January 15, 2018 at 1:23 pm

People come out in support of Egypt’s efforts to end divisions and support Palestinian reconciliation on 25 September 2017. [Moahmmed Asad/Middle East Monitor]

The Egyptian security forces shot dead a Palestinian fisherman on Saturday. Abdullah Zaidan, 33, was killed on board his boat while he was working off the Rafah coast in the south of the Gaza Strip. The Egyptian authorities claimed that Zaidan had strayed into Egypt’s territorial waters, but the Fishermens’ Union and official Palestinian sources insisted that it was very clear that he did not.

Egypt is a key broker in the internal Palestinian reconciliation process; nevertheless, it has not paid much attention to the killing, or shown any major concern. This suggests strongly that it does not deal with the Palestinians based on the common factors such as ethnicity, religion and kinship, or even basic humanitarian considerations. The government in Cairo deals with the Palestinians solely as a security issue.

The recent rapprochement between Egypt and the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, which governed the Gaza Strip for more than a decade, was a shock. It was seen as strange by almost all Palestinians and observers because it came after 11 years of hostilities and without any notice. What’s more, it was not only a rapprochement with Hamas, but an intention to bring Hamas and its rival Fatah — the two major groups involved in the political split — together.

Egypt has marketed itself as the saviour of the Palestinians living in the besieged enclave. Its government promised to open the Rafah Crossing, which is the main window for Gaza’s 2 million residents to the outside world, and to facilitate the basics of life in the territory.

Read: As Rafah reopens, Egypt stops Palestinian students from leaving Gaza

The residents of Gaza, who have been enduring an unprecedented blockade and exceptionally bad living conditions, hailed the Egyptian initiative. They hope to see an end to their daily suffering, hunger and travel restrictions, which have led to patients dying due to lack of treatment and students unable to take up study places overseas. The Egyptian initiative even pleased Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and the wider diaspora.

However, the Palestinians remain cautious. One senior member of Hamas asked the movement’s leader in Gaza, Yahya Al-Sinwar, at an internal meeting, “Can you trust Egypt as a broker of the reconciliation after more than a decade of hostility?” His answer was “Yes” and he noted that Egypt had pledged to have a security mission in Gaza in order to facilitate the reconciliation agreement and promised to reveal which party was not committing to it.

It’s not just Hamas members who doubt Egypt’s sponsorship of the reconciliation, but also the ordinary people on the streets of Gaza. When the Hamas and Fatah talks were going on in Cairo, an unemployed 50-year-old father of seven spoke to MEMO and said, “I am sure that there is no real reconciliation.”

Three months after the agreement was signed, the division has actually widened and the siege has tightened. The reconciliation has only pleased the Israeli occupation authorities and their Palestinian allies in the Palestinian Authority. The losers in the game are the people of Gaza. Hamas has lost nothing, because it stood down from government before the deal was struck, and considers its natural place to be challenging the occupation in the field rather than in Palestinian ministries and offices.

Read: Hamas has done more than necessary for reconciliation, insists senior official

How has Egypt fail Gaza’s residents? For a start, the Rafah Crossing is still closed because it has not fulfilled its promise to Hamas in this respect. Patients are still blocked from travelling for essential treatment, students cannot take up their places and workers cannot go to their jobs abroad. Egypt has not improved Palestinian life in Gaza in any way.

The Egyptian government is also continuing to arrest Hamas members — it still holds three men abducted by Egyptian security forces three years ago — but denies that they are being held in its prisons, despite this being confirmed by witnesses and photographs published in the mass media.

The much-vaunted security mission, which was supposed to follow up the implementation of the reconciliation, left the Gaza Strip without any reason. It has been promising to return, but has not done so.

Possibly the most important aspect of the reconciliation deal is the Egyptian pledge to reveal which Palestinian party is hindering its implementation. It is clear that Egypt, the PA, Israel, Arab states and the international community are waiting for Gaza to collapse. If not, why haven’t Egypt and the PA moved to help the people in the Gaza Strip?

Palestinian Fatah movement leader Azzam Al-Ahmad (R) and Deputy Chairman of the Movement's Political Bureau Saleh Al-Arouri (L) shake hands after signing the reconciliation agreement to build a consensus in Cairo, Egypt on 12 October 2017 [Ahmed Gamil/Anadolu Agency]

Palestinian Fatah movement leader Azzam Al-Ahmad (R) and Deputy Chairman of the Movement’s Political Bureau Saleh Al-Arouri (L) shake hands after signing the reconciliation agreement to build a consensus in Cairo, Egypt on 12 October 2017 [Ahmed Gamil/Anadolu Agency]

In fact, the reverse is the case. Amidst the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, Egypt is tightening the siege by destroying the tunnels used to smuggle food and basic humanitarian aid into the besieged enclave.

Smuggling tunnels were described as the lifeline of the Palestinians in Gaza between 2007 and 2013, when the current Egyptian regime came into power and initiated its aggressive strategy against them. Until a very short time before the reconciliation deal, the tunnels were the source of some hope in the hearts of the Palestinians. However, since the agreement was reached, the Egyptian authorities, which brokered the deal, have doubled their efforts against the tunnels.

When US President Donald Trump announced that he was recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, it was revealed that the Egyptians had not opposed the move. Leaked recordings have revealed that an Egyptian intelligence officer instructed several TV talk show hosts to downplay Trump’s recognition in order to convince viewers to accept the reality established by his move on Jerusalem.

After all of these setbacks, how can Gaza’s residents believe that Egypt has any integrity? It is clear now, more than ever before, that Egypt is not an honest broker when it comes to Palestinian reconciliation.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.