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Breakthrough in Mideast

Editorial |

There has been a distinct forward movement in the Middle East in the midst of the discord over nuclear proliferation in another part of the world. The reconciliation agreement, signed in Cairo, between the rival Palestinian factions ~ Hamas and Fatah ~ deserves generally to be welcomed; whether or not the peace will hold need not detain us here.

Suffice it to register that it is the latest in a series of attempts to end the prolonged territorial, political and ideological split in Palestine, one that has stalled statehood aspirations. Fractious Egypt has played the honest broker for the conclusion of the deal, which dwells on who should control the contested Gaza Strip and on what terms.

The mutual hostility is embedded in the geographical and ideological divisions between the West Bank and Gaza.

Both Hamas and Fatah have ruled over the two territories ever since the confrontation a decade ago. Since 2007, each side has beefed up its control over its territory, making it increasingly difficult to forge compromises. The terms of the reconciliation, however preliminary, are critical. The West Bank-based Palestinian Authority (PA) will resume full control of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip by 1 December. The forces of the Palestinian Authority will assume control of the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

In exchange, the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and the PA are expected to lift the crippling restrictions on electricity supply to Gaza, a reprisal that has affected the lives of its 2 million residents. Gaza is a tormented swathe of the world, and improvement in the quality of life ought now to be accorded uppermost priority.

On paper at least, the deal is significant, indeed similar to previous attempts at reconciliation between the two sides and which were unveiled with fanfare and public protestations of unity, but before long were reduced to a fizzle.

If indeed President Abbas visits Gaza “within less than a month” as envisaged, it will be his first visit since 2007, when the Islamist Hamas movement assumed control. In the same year, after winning the Palestinian parliament elections, Hamas evicted Abbas’s western-backed Palestinian Authority from Gaza. He was left with autonomous enclaves in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The fineprint of the agreement will be examined by both Israel and international donors to the Palestinian Authority, and the deal may have profound legal consequences in terms of funding from the US. There is little doubt that the breakthrough has been influenced by the changing scenario in the Middle East in the wider canvas.

Small wonder that Egypt has stepped in to displace Qatar and Turkey as the key broker in Palestinian affairs. Equally, both Hamas and Fatah are increasingly reliant on Cairo’s sponsorship. Critical indeed has been the change in geopolitical dynamics.