Ramallah, occupied West Bank – This week Palestinian officials are busy working on different diplomatic tracks to push forward a new proposal at the UN to end Israel’s occupation, work on internal divisions, and hold talks with Israel on cementing a truce in the besieged Gaza Strip.
These efforts are taking place in Cairo starting Tuesday, and at the UN in New York City throughout the week, as the General Assembly gathers for its 69th session to discuss a wide range of issues; from Syria and Iraq to the Ebola crisis.
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In the Egyptian capital, Palestinians are expected to discuss efforts to reunite their front, after tensions surfaced between Hamas and Fatah over who will be in charge of the reconstruction efforts and run Gaza’s daily affairs.
Back in April, the two factions had inked a reconciliation deal and put together a national consensus government that many hoped would end a 7-year internal feud.
Disagreements, however, quickly arose after a ceasefire – ending 51 days of an Israeli military offensive on Gaza – took place on August 26. The discord mainly focused on who controls Gaza after Hamas’ government was essentially replaced with an independent one agreed upon by both sides.
The Palestinian Authority (PA), which rules over the West Bank, accused Hamas of running what it called a “shadow government”. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also threatened to dissolve the new consensus government if Hamas doesn’t allow it to carry out its duties there.
The inter-Palestinian talks in Cairo, which are expected to take place on September 24 and 25, will also focus on the wage crisis affecting 40,000 Gaza-based public servants employed by the previous Hamas-led government, and who will be in charge of the coastal enclave’s security.
In the lead-up to securing a final ceasefire, there was talk of having the PA’s security forces run the border crossing between Gaza and Israel.
“We should allow the PA to assert its authority all over Gaza, so it can be responsible for the running of daily affairs there and all over the [Palestinian] lands,” Mohammad Shatyyeh, a senior Fatah official, said.
“This should be a prerequisite for … rebuilding Gaza,” said Shtayyeh, who also heads the Palestinian Economic Council for Research and Development (PECDAR).
Last week, the UN struck a deal with the Palestinians and Israelis to allow construction materials into Gaza. Rebuilding would include the PA as well as the Palestinian private sector, the UN said. The organisation also wants to station hundreds of international monitors to supervise the rebuilding process, Haaretz had learned earlier.
In Cairo, Palestinians are also expected to meet with Israeli delegates in the hope of striking a deal to ease the blockade on the coastal enclave. However, demands to have Hamas demilitarize and to get Israeli approval for a seaport and airport in Gaza seem unattainable.
The indirect talks will begin with an agenda-setting meeting on September 23, but will resume after the Jewish and Muslim holidays. The evening of September 24 marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, or the Jewish new year. And next week, Jews celebrate Yom Kipur, while Muslims celebrate Eid al-Adha, the festival marking the end of Hajj – the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. As part of the ceasefire agreement mediated by Egypt, Palestinian and Israeli negotiators were to return to Cairo within a month to talk about long-term plans for Gaza.
Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Sunday he did not have high hopes for the talks. “Apart from the immediate rehabilitation [of Gaza], there is no real, long-term solution to the situation,” unless Hamas agrees to demilitarize, Steinitz told reporters at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.
While there are low expectations that there will be a major departure from the status quo, there is a vested interest in reaching an agreement of some sort, given that Hamas still holds the bodies of two Israeli soldiers that it would like to see exchanged for Palestinian prisoners.
In New York, Abbas is expected to make a speech that would outline a new proposal for the creation of a Palestinian state.
On September 22, at a lecture in New York City’s Cooper Union college, Abbas mentioned his proposal briefly. “This week I will propose to the United Nations a new timetable for peace talks,” he said. “The key is to agree on a map to delineate the borders of each country.”
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For a few months now, Abbas had refrained from turning to international organisations, as Washington had demanded, to allow the US to bring Palestinians and Israelis together for talks. But his latest move seems to be a result of frustration with unfruitful US mediation efforts and his dwindling popularity among Palestinians at home.
“Since June 12, we have been engaged with this [Israeli] government in a campaign that has derailed the Palestinian cause and unity,” said Husam Zumlot, a top Fatah foreign policy adviser. “What the president is about to do is to return the Palestinian cause to the political track. To show that the main issue is [the] occupation.”
Prior to his departure, Abbas met with Isaac Herzog, the Israeli Labor Party chairman, who urged the Palestinian president not to make any unilateral plans for statehood. According to Herzog, Abbas said he would call on the UN Security Council to issue a binding resolution that would recognise the 1967 borders as the basis for a future Palestinian state.
On September 23, Abbas is expected to meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry, with whom he will discuss his diplomatic initiative.