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PA's Abbas fears being sidelined by Egypt-Hamas-Dahlan alliance

There are worries within Fatah that if this plan fails, Egypt will look to plan B - a deal with Mohammad Dahlan
People gather as the convoy of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah arrives in Gaza last week (Reuters)

GAZA CITY/RAMALLAH, Palestine – Amid a flurry of excitement about the reconciliation pact between Hamas and Fatah, the Palestinian Authority is increasingly concerned about the Egyptian role in the talks.

In the PA's eyes, Cairo is not even attempting to hide its support for both Hamas and Mohammed Dahlan, both rivals to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, or its intention to place itself in the centre of the so-called "Middle East peace process".

But while Abbas does not want to dismiss the Egyptian efforts all-together, he is not keen to embrace them too wholeheartedly, officials told MEE. 

“The Egyptians are driven, in these efforts, by their own interests - not our interests,” a senior Fatah official said.

“Egypt is not hiding its support for both Hamas and Dahlan, this is clear, and we have no problem with that,” he said.

'The Egyptians are driven, in these efforts, by their own interests - not our interests'

- Senior Fatah official

“The problem emerges when Egypt conducts this support at our expense,” he said.

Fatah officials are concerned Egypt is trying to reach a reconciliation deal that empowers both Hamas and Dahlan in Gaza, in addition to Cairo’s interests in any future peace process between Palestine and Israel.

“It’s no secret that Egypt is a close ally to US President Donald Trump, and we can’t forget when Egypt withdrew the 2334 draft resolution upon US president-elect Trump’s request in December 2016,” he said.

After Egypt initially presented a draft resolution to the UN condemning Israeli settlement building as illegal, it then withdrew the text.

Hamas's overall leader Ismail Haniya (L) and Palestinian prime minister Rami Hamdallah are seen together at Haniya's office in Gaza City on Tuesday (AFP)

The resolution was then presented by four other Security Council members, and passed, with 14 votes to 0. The US abstained.  

Since Trump took office, his administration has been attempting to bring the Palestinians and the Israelis to the negotiating table, but after eight months of sustained efforts, including 22 meetings with Abbas, they appear to be getting nowhere.  

Palestinian officials say that Trump is trying to have Egypt play the role of mediator, overseeing a regional peace deal which brings in the Arab Gulf countries, Israel and the PA.

But, officials said, Abbas has been very reticent in his response to the new Egyptian reconciliation efforts.

“President Abbas was very clear and told the Egyptian officials who visited him in Ramallah early last week, and through their media, that he ‘is not in hurry’ and won’t accept the Hezbollah-style ruling in Gaza,” one official said.

Resorting to a Plan B?

The reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas are set to open in Cairo tomorrow, but officials say the expectations of these talks are not high.

According to diplomatic sources, Egypt is ready to pursue plan B at any time – abandoning the current track and supporting Hamas-Dahlan reconciliation efforts.  

The Egyptians are determined to directly intervene in Gaza, as they do not want to lose their security buffer with Israel, and if Abbas is unwilling to take on full responsibility for Gaza, then they are keen to adopt plan B, officials say.  

The relationship between Egypt and Hamas has been growing in an unexpected way since Yehya al-Sinwar became Hamas chief in February of this year.

And senior Hamas officials say Egypt has become the group’s “strategic partner”.

Hamas and Egypt reached a key security deal on the Sinai earlier this year (AFP)

Egyptian officials have praised Hamas’ security cooperation and Sinwar’s performance in his new job.

A senior Palestinian official close to Cairo said Egyptian officials view Sinwar as a promising future leader in Palestine. 

“The Egyptians say Sinwar told them during his conversations in Cairo that he is not Muslim Brotherhood, and he only cares about Gaza’s interests,” the official said.

“Sinwar is interested in the Palestinian national project, not the Muslim Brotherhood project,” the official added.  

Sinwar reached a deal with Egypt over security a few months ago, in which Hamas, for the first time, provided Egypt with information about Salafi groups in the Sinai and created a buffer zone on the borders to prevent any movement of the Salafi fighters from and to the Egyptian peninsula. 

'If this round of reconciliation talks fail, then Dahlan will be the king of Gaza'

- Ahmad Yousif, former political adviser to Ismael Haniyeh

The Egyptians say in private talks that the security performance of Hamas in the war against extremist groups in the Sinai has proven very effective. 

Sinwar reached a similar deal with Egypt’s close ally Dahlan, in which the former Gaza strongman pledged a large Emirati fund to the coastal enclave. 

The growing ties between Hamas leaders in Gaza and both Egypt and Dahlan are raising serious concerns in the PA, and are expected to affect the current Egyptian efforts.  

"If President Abbas doesn't accept the Egyptian initiative this time, Dahlan will be the alternative," said Ahmad Yousif, former political adviser to Ismael Haniyeh during his tenure as prime minister of the Hamas-led government in Gaza. 

"If this round of reconciliation talks fail, then Dahlan will be the king of Gaza," Yousif said.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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