Paving the way for possible reconciliation between the West Bank and Gaza, Hamas said Sunday it would dissolve the Gaza administrative committee, allowing a Palestinian unity government to work in its place and move toward general elections.
The announcement comes after days of indirect negotiations between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Islamist Hamas in Cairo.
Hamas said the negotiations were “an expression of Egyptian interest in Palestinian reconciliation and ending the division, and our interest to realize the hopes of the Palestinian people by achieving national unity.”
Hamas established the administrative committee earlier this year, angering Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who derided the committee as a shadow government and accused Hamas of trying to entrench further their control of Gaza. Its dissolution would bridge a significant gap between the two sides, allowing for the possibility of reconciliation.
That could mean the end of a decade-long rift between the West Bank and Gaza that started in 2007 when Hamas forced the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA) out of the coastal enclave. The move followed Hamas’ surprise victory in the legislative elections a year earlier.
Onus now on Abbas
Mousa Mohammed Abu Marzook, a senior member of Hamas, said, “We hope to resolve Arab-Arab disputes and not stand with one party against another.”
In recent months, the chasm between the two factions has grown wider, as Abbas has reduced electricity supplies to Gaza and cut salaries of Gaza-based PA employees in an attempt to pressure Hamas into giving up control.
Hamas’ statement now places the onus on Abbas to decide what to do next. If Abbas accepts Hamas’ statement, the attempt at reconciliation can move forward. But if Abbas places a condition on accepting the statement, this latest attempt at bringing the two sides together may end in nothing more than statements.
Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi welcomed the announcement by Hamas, calling it a “positive step,” and saying it will allow a unity government to begin functioning.
“We need to see that the government of national accord is functioning in Gaza and that the (administrative) committee is actually dissolved,” Ashrawi told CNN. Once Hamas takes concrete steps to dissolve the administrative committee, Ashrawi said, the Palestinian Authority will cancel restrictive measures against Hamas.
The Palestinians have seen multiple attempts at reconciliation in the past, but they have fizzled as the gaps between Fatah and Hamas have grown only wider.
Mounting humanitarian crisis
This latest attempt comes as Gaza faces a dire humanitarian crisis, with the United Nations warning that Gaza may be unlivable by 2020.
Electricity is available for only about four hours a day, and 75% of coastal waters are polluted because sewage treatment plants sit idle.
Increasingly, Hamas has found itself in need of cash, turning to Egypt, Turkey, Qatar, Iran, and the United Arab Emirates for help. None of those options were a permanent solution.
Israel and Egypt have imposed a blockade on Gaza since the Hamas’ takeover, although Egypt intermittently opens its border crossing into Gaza.
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov welcomed the latest development. “All parties must seize this opportunity to restore unity and open a new page for the Palestinian people,” said Mladenov.
“It is critical that the grave humanitarian situation in Gaza, most notably the crippling electricity crisis, be addressed as a priority,” he added.
In May, Hamas released a new policy document, officially accepting for the first time the idea of a Palestinian state that would fall within 1967 borders, but refusing to recognize Israel and rejecting calls to give up its armed fight against Israel. Israel, the United States, the European Union and a number of other countries consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
The document was designed to show flexibility on Hamas’ hardline positions, though Israel — and even some members of Fatah’s governing Central Committee — rejected the new policy document.
Israel has yet to respond to Hamas’ latest announcement.