Palestinians miss major reconciliation deadline

Adel Zaanoun
Palestinians wave the national flag during a demonstration in Gaza City on December 3, 2017, in support of the reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah, though the two groups then missed a deadline for talks December 10, 2017

Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas have missed a major deadline in their reconciliation bid by failing to transfer power in the Gaza Strip, with the rivals on Monday trading accusations of blame.

US President Donald Trump's declaration of Jerusalem as Israel's capital has further complicated an already difficult attempt to transfer power in Gaza from Islamist movement Hamas back to the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The Palestinian territories, including the Gaza Strip, have seen protests and clashes each day since Trump's declaration on Wednesday.

Sunday had been the deadline for the handover, a decade after Hamas seized power in the Palestinian enclave in a near civil war with president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah, based in the occupied West Bank.

An Egyptian-brokered agreement in early October originally set a December 1 deadline for full transfer of power back to the PA, which is dominated by Fagah, though that was later pushed back to December 10.

In Gaza, the situation was essentially unchanged despite the deadline, with Hamas police still patrolling the streets, while crippling electricity shortages endured.

Hamas claimed on Saturday it had handed over control of all government ministries, but Fatah's top negotiator later said "obstacles" remained.

PA government spokesman Yousef Mahmud said Monday it had not received full control in key ministries.

In a statement on official Palestinian news agency WAFA, he accused Hamas of seeking to stop the handover.

Fawzy Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman, told AFP that Mahmud's statement was an attempt to "cover up the government's failure to carry out its duties to the people of Gaza".

Palestinians and international players had hoped that a reconciliation deal could lead to the easing of Israeli and Egyptian blockades on Gaza, reducing the suffering of the two million people largely trapped in the enclave.

Both sides still publicly said they remain committed to the reconciliation, but fears that it could collapse are growing.

- 'A dead end' -

They appear no closer to an agreement about the future of Hamas’s vast military wing, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2008, while they must still resolve the issue of two separate civil administrations.

Abbas has also not yet lifted sanctions against Hamas, including cutting payments for electricity, further worsening an already severe power shortage in Gaza.

There was already little optimism about achieving a full handover by December 10, but Trump's controversial announcement has added further complications.

The Palestinian government has called for wide-scale peaceful protests against it, but Hamas has called for violence -- hailing attacks against Israelis as the start of a new violent intifada, or uprising, against Israeli occupation.

Hamas is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Four Palestinians in Gaza, including two Hamas fighters, were killed either in clashes with Israeli forces or by Israeli air strikes in retaliation for rocket fire on Friday and Saturday.

Naji Sharab, political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, said Trump's move made the reconciliation bid harder.

"Some want uprising and others don't. Some want a military escalation and some don't," he told AFP. "With the Jerusalem issue, they cannot continue."

Jamal al-Fadi, a politics professor, said he feared the process could now collapse.

"I believe that in the short term it will hold, but the issue of reconciliation will come back to the top of the agenda considering the needs of the people for solutions."

"It seems that the process has reached a dead end."