Palestinian Factions Differ on Priorities at Cairo Unity Talks

Portraits of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas hang at the Rafah border crossing on Nov. 1, 2017.

Photographer: Majdi Fathi/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Rival Palestinian factions resumed reconciliation talks in Cairo on Tuesday as differences surfaced over the best way to implement their deal to end a decade-old rift that has hampered efforts toward statehood.

The Palestinian Authority, led by President Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah, retook control of the Gaza Strip’s border crossings from the Islamist Hamas movement this month, a key step in the Egyptian-brokered reconciliation deal. Under the agreement, the consensus government is due to take full administrative control of Gaza by Dec. 1.

But disputes emerged over how to proceed, with Hamas keen to push for an agreement on other thorny issues, including security and elections, and Fatah reluctant to move forward until the unity administration has assumed complete authority over the coastal enclave.

Azzam al-Ahmad, the chief Fatah negotiator, said progress was slow but avoided assigning blame. “Some are presenting obstacles to this process, obstacles we do not want,” he told reporters in Cairo. “But we hope that by Dec. 1 this phase will be completed and we can move on to the next phase in the talks.”

Hamas official Fawzy Barhoom issued a statement ahead of the talks saying the group’s vision for success involved tackling hot topics early on. “The movement affirms the need to redouble efforts to ensure the success of this Egyptian-mediated dialogue,” he said on his Facebook page.

Salah el-Bardaweel, a Hamas negotiator, said in a short video sent to reporters that Fatah’s priorities were at odds with those of other factions. For the first time, a broad range of Palestinian opinion is present in Cairo, with representatives of 13 groups at the talks.

Israeli Assertions

Though the Palestinian Authority now controls the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings with Israel and the Rafah transit point with Egypt, Gaza’s only land outlets to the world, the borders remain tightly restricted. Egypt postponed plans to open the Rafah crossing with Egypt’s northern Sinai for security reasons. The opening was meant to demonstrate progress in the talks.

Abbas has tried numerous times without success to repair the rift in Palestinian ranks, in part to counter Israeli assertions that peace negotiations are pointless because he can’t ensure that any treaty will also hold in Gaza.

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