No sooner did the first round of talks between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in three years kick off than did progress stall after the latter’s refusal to disarm. Given the group’s ideological agenda, this is not in the least bit surprising
Hamas will have to disarm for 'historic' meetings to go anywhere
Over the past few weeks, hopes of a breakthrough in the Gaza stalemate has steadily mounted. Palestinian Authority ministers finally met in the besieged strip for the first time in three years, ahead of negotiations between Fatah and its bitter rival Hamas that were brought to fruition by Egypt. While the meeting was overshadowed by a warning from Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas over Hamas’s weapons and future arms ambitions, it was still deemed historic.
"Today, we stand before an important, historical moment as we begin to get over our wounds, put our differences aside and place the higher national interest above all else," said prime minister Rami Hamdallah.
It is a major development by any standard. After all, not only did his ministers, whose responsibilities had been confined to the West Bank, tentatively resume their roles in the crowded coastal territory that Hamas has controlled since a brief civil war a decade ago, but an Egypt security delegation also visited its chief Ismail Haniyeh.
Whether it will change anything on the ground, however, remains to be seen. Some reports now suggest talks have stalled, given Hamas’s refusal to disarm.
No matter what happens behind closed doors, Egypt has a key strategic role to play in Gaza’s future, despite tensions in recent years following Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi’s removal and the subsequent administration taking a tougher stance against the rulers of the strip.
Perhaps the biggest stumbling block in the way of progress is Hamas, an increasingly wounded and isolated group.
Its agenda makes key points of contention almost intractable. As The National reported when Hamas declared that it was making its mission statement “more nuanced” in May, words are not the same as actions. Mahmoud Zahar, the co-founder of Hamas, asserted at the time that any carefully-worded change of stance was merely “a tool for the future but it does not mean we’re changing our principles”.
However, Hamas, which is regarded as a terror group by the EU, the United States and most of the international community, is slowly pulling away from Doha and Tehran.
There are many details on the ground that would need to be hammered out before this week's tentative talks move towards anything approaching political settlement: borders (which the PA insists it will control), sanctions, which Mr Abbas vows will remain as long as Hamas remains militarised, arms, the ratio of PA staff to Hamas staff at the ministries, among others.
Indeed, there will be great suspicion that any mutual ground can be found and fully exploited. The historic may have happened, but the intractable seems to have surfaced almost as fast.
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