Analysis. The agreement signed Thursday in Cairo gives the Palestinian National Authority control of Gaza but leaves unresolved the issue of Hamas’ arsenal of rockets.

Between Fatah and Hamas, reconciliation is now reality

Starting Dec. 1, the government of the Palestinian National Authority will regain full control of Gaza, and 3,000 presidential guardsmen will be deployed on the Strip’s streets and on the crossings to Egypt and Israel. These are some of the main points of the agreement, mediated by the Egyptians, signed Thursday in Cairo by Hamas second-in-command Saleh al Aruri and Fatah’s chief of staff Azzam al Ahmad.

The agreement has healed a wound, which had been open for over 10 years, with devastating consequences not only on a political level. The signing of the agreement was followed by demonstrations of joy in the streets of Gaza by thousands of people. The people of Gaza hope that the newly found national unity will give new impetus to the reconstruction of the Strip, still torn apart after the Israeli offensive “Protective Margin” in 2014, and more recently struck by the punitive measures imposed by President Abu Mazen to force the Islamists to give up control over Gaza.

The Israeli leaders also celebrated Thursday’s achievement. And not because of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation. In Israel, the decision announced by the U.S. Department of State that the United States will leave UNESCO in 2018, in protest against a presumed West Bank-Palestinian and anti-Israeli attitude of the U.N. agency, has been welcomed as a victory.

“There is a price to pay for discrimination against Israel,” commented Israeli ambassador Danny Danon. “It is a new era at the U.N. … The United States’ decision is a turning point.” Other Israeli political figures made similar statements, among them the former Foreign Affairs Minister Tzipi Livni who celebrated Washington’s action via Twitter.

Abu Mazen, who is now ready to cancel his punitive measures that have hit civilians in particular, should return to Gaza within three or four weeks for the first time in 10 years, according to speculation. There has still not been an official announcement.

On Thursday, for the first time, the Palestinian president was pleased. He welcomed the “result achieved by Fatah and Hamas with Egyptian mediation in Cairo” and stressed that “the agreement strengthens and accelerates steps to end the divide and restore the unity of the Palestinian people, its territory and of the Palestinian institutions.” So he urged the government and all the apparatus and institutions to work to implement what is contained in the accord and to achieve “what the people are going after, that is to find unity.”

Under the agreement, the government of Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah will take control of the civilian sector and internal security. It foresees the formation of a national unity government (in the next two weeks all political forces, not only Fatah and Hamas, will meet to create the new executive leadership), the organization of political and presidential elections, and the formation of a joint commission to decide on the future of Hamas employees in public institutions (about 45,000 civilians and military personnel).

Hamas and Fatah leaders have avoided touching the issue, but the agreement announced Thursday at dawn by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, and confirmed by Abu Mazen, was made possible only because they have decided not to resolve the most difficult sticking point: Hamas’ weapons and the role of the 25,000 armed militia fighters of the Islamist movement, the “Ezzedin al Qassam” Brigades.

“The issue should be addressed in the upcoming negotiations in Cairo [on Nov. 21], but it will actually remain locked in a drawer, to avoid compromising the final outcome of reconciliation,” according to a Palestinian journalist, well-informed about the decisions at the top of the Islamist movement, who spoke with il manifesto on condition of anonymity. “The solution was found, actually imposed, by the Egyptians. Essentially, the Ezzedin al Qassam militia fighters will become invisible to leave the streets of the Gaza Strip only to the official security forces of the PNA. Abu Mazen eventually accepted the imposed solution (by Cairo) after having strongly asked for the disarmament of Hamas.”

But who will have authority over the Islamic movement’s arsenal, which includes rockets that in 2014 were able to reach every point in Israel? “Hamas owns the arsenal, and it will remain under Hamas control,” said the journalist. “But the leaders of the Islamist movement have agreed to decide with Fatah and the other Palestinian factions if and when to use those weapons and employ its militia.”

A solution that favors reconciliation but makes Abu Mazen weaker in the eyes of Egyptians, who frame the agreement in a wider process that will lead to the normalization of relations between the Arab world and Israel.

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