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Can Egypt, Russia bring about Palestinian reconciliation?

July 16, 2019 at 1:36 pm

Palestinians wave the national flag during a demonstration to support the reconciliation in Gaza City on 3 December 2017 [Ashraf Amra/Apaimages]

The Egyptian security delegation’s back-and-forth rounds between Hamas in the besieged Gaza Strip and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the occupied West Bank suggest that some progress is being made towards Palestinian reconciliation.

Leaks talk about understandings being formulated on a variety of issues, including enabling government ministers to work in Gaza, a call for the common leadership framework to reunite, applying the 2017 Cairo Agreement and holding presidential and legislative elections.

All these issues are being discussed quietly, away from the cameras, with very few statements made to the media to avoid misplaced hopes or expectations.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has also phoned PA President Abbas to discuss these issues, in a phone call described by the Palestine News Agency as “long and in-depth”. The pair discussed the peace process and Russia’s readiness to revive it, as well as the prospect of reconciliation within the framework of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and joint support for Egypt’s role in reconciliation. Putin said he is looking forward to meeting Abbas in Russian capital Moscow for further talks.

These developments alone are not enough to create an optimistic climate or raise expectations. Egyptian delegates have been between Gaza and the West Bank tens of times, while Egypt has hosted Palestinian delegates time and again. Moscow itself has been a meeting place for the various Palestinian factions under an initiative by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, Vitaly Naumkin, the academic director of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, and with the support of the Kremlin.

All these efforts have, however, been in vain, with initiatives always hitting the same impasse.

READ: Egypt intelligence delegation meets Fatah leaders in Ramallah

In addition to attempts at reconciliation and renewing the peace process, there is the issue of calm between Hamas and Israel. Leaks suggest a small breakthrough could be on the horizon, which might be enough to prevent another outbreak of violence. The leaks discuss the possibility of more goods entering the besieged Strip, enlarging the severely-restricted fishing zone and increasing the supplies of electricity and fuel, but always to a minimum level that merely ensures the Strip’s population doesn’t starve.

We know little of the reasons that led to the renewal of these diplomatic efforts towards calm, reconciliation and the broader peace process, particularly after a relatively-long period of hibernation.

However, it is no coincidence that mediation has become more active after the failure of the Manama workshop, which took place in the Bahraini capital last month to unveil the economic aspects of the US’ log-awaited “deal of the century”. In their unified rejection of the conference, the Palestinians successfully proved they are a resilient figure in the region.

Palestinians protest against the Trump's deal of century plan in the West Bank city of Ramallah on 2 July 2018 [Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images]

Palestinians protest against Trump’s deal of the century in the West Bank city of Ramallah on 2 July 2018 [Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images]

Perhaps this was enough to revive Egyptian mediation, given Egypt’s fears that the Strip will explode on its border. The conference could have also motivated Russia to fill the void left by the naivety and ugliness of Senior Advisor to the US President, Jared Kushner, the chief architect of the deal and Bahrain conference. Those responsible for US mediation in the Israel-Palestine conflict have failed, ending the US’ role as a broker of peace.

Will Egyptian and Russian efforts succeed where the US has failed? We have no answer to this question; things are still unclear and ambiguity surrounds the ongoing mediation. We do hope that these efforts will at least succeed in building trust between the two sides, helping them agree to a mechanism to regulate their differences and share the little they have.

No one has grand hopes of ending the Palestinian factions’ division, resuming reconciliation and restoring unity. What is required at this point is much less, and any success scored by the mediators towards containment of the dispute would be an achievement.

READ: Hamas rejected US invitation to Manama conference to preserve Palestinian unity

This article first appeared in Arabic in Addustour on 15 July 2019

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