Sunday, July 31, 2011

Egypt resumes Palestinian mediation efforts

Aiming to save the agreement signed recently in Cairo, Egypt will again gather the divided Palestinian factions in the name of reconciliation and unity, writes Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah

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Palestinian children at an event organised by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) hold a large piece of cloth covered with handprints, as they seek to achieve a world record for the largest handprint painting, in Khan Younis, southern Gaza Strip

Egypt, the main broker of Palestinian reconciliation, has been extending invitations to various Palestinian factions for further discussion on problems impeding the formation of a Palestinian national unity government.
A meeting has already taken place in Cairo between Egyptian intelligence officials and representatives of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PLFP), the second most important Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) faction after Fatah.
More meetings between Egyptian officials and representatives of various Palestinian factions are planned for the next few weeks.
Rabah Muhanna, a PFLP spokesman in Gaza, said the Egyptians were holding meetings with factional leaders and discussing ways and means to overcome problems hindering the formation of a new Palestinian government that would be acceptable to all factions, especially Fatah and Hamas.
Muhanna said the interim Egyptian leadership was devoting real attention to the issue of Palestinian reconciliation despite its own internal troubles, adding that the Palestinian situation was always and would always be a matter of Egyptian national security.
PFLP interim leader Abdel-Rahim Mallouh this week blamed both Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Hamas-run government in Gaza, for the continuation of the reconciliation predicament, calling on them both to resign.
In the same interview with the Maan News Agency, Mallouh castigated the Fatah PA leadership, saying that "we are subjected to a financial decapitation every time we criticise PA political performance."
Earlier a number of Palestinian officials dismissed reports and rumours that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is not particularly enthusiastic about pursuing reconciliation talks with Hamas at a time when the PA is planning to seek international support for UN recognition of a Palestinian state.
"We don't think that the two tracts, national reconciliation and seeking UN recognition, contradict each other; we think they complement each other," said Azzam Al-Ahmed, head of the Fatah parliamentary caucus in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).
He added that the Palestinians couldn't achieve their national goals without real national reconciliation. "The persistence of division is an Israeli interest. This is the reason why Israel lost composure when the initial reconciliation agreement was signed in Cairo a few months ago."
Another Fatah leader, Mahmoud Alul, a former governor of Nablus, said the PA would have to form the new government before September. "We can't go the UN divided and disunited. We must form the new government as soon as possible."
Alul said contacts with Hamas were continuing and that positive results were expected soon.
Meanwhile, a delegation of independent Palestinian figures from both the West Bank and Gaza Strip, headed by Yasser Wadyeh, met this week in Ramallah with Yasser Uthman, the Egyptian ambassador to the PA. Wadyeh described the meeting as positive and fruitful, adding that discussions centered on getting the reconciliation agreement implemented.
Ambassador Uthman reportedly told the delegates the Egyptian leadership was going to extend invitations to Palestinian factions for further discussion on the reconciliation issue. Wadyeh said the Palestinian people and their just cause suffered immensely as a result of division.
In a related development, the Turkish government has invited representatives of Fatah and Hamas for reconciliation talks in Ankara. The talks are expected to complement ongoing Egyptian efforts to save the initial Cairo reconciliation agreement between the two largest Palestinian factions.
Turkey has good relations with both Hamas and the PA leadership and is widely seen as showing concern for the collective Palestinian good. Moreover, there have been unsubstantiated reports that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is planning a visit to Gaza to identify with the Palestinian people.
Erdogan reportedly urged PA President Mahmoud Abbas to speed up the reconciliation process with Hamas during his latest visit to Ankara.
In a significant overture, which some observers contend reflects Hamas's commitment to reconciliation with Fatah, Palestinian Islamist leaders have extended their support for PA plans to seek recognition for a prospective Palestinian state in September.
Aziz Deweik, speaker of the PLC, said Hamas fully supported efforts at the United Nations. He warned against succumbing to American and Israeli pressures, saying the resumption of "futile peace talks" would be a reproduction of the same failure and disappointment the Palestinians experienced during many years of useless talks with Israel.
"The Americans and Israel believe that the PA leadership is easy to bully, easy to blackmail, easy to control. The leadership must demonstrate to the Palestinian people and to friends and foes alike that we don't succumb to pressure and that American and Israeli bullying won't make us abandon our paramount national goals."
Deweik urged Abbas to include Palestinian factions in the decision-making process pertaining to plans to seek UN recognition. "this is a matter of immense strategic importance for the Palestinian people and its cause. The PA leadership should consult with the elected representatives of the Palestinian people as to the most appropriate ways and means to achieve national goals."
Despite efforts to draw a somewhat positive picture of the internal Palestinian arena, certain measures continued to mar and spoil relations between Fatah and Hamas. This week, the Palestinian security agencies in the Hebron region dismissed six school teachers on suspicion of affiliation with Hamas.
Such "provocations" coupled with the continued incarceration of Hamas activists in the West Bank are bound to maintain a state of mutual mistrust between the two movements and consequently undermine reconciliation efforts. Fatah, which dominates the PA government in Ramallah, claims it has nothing to do with "security measures" taken by the government of Fayyad against Hamas sympathisers.
Hamas says Fatah must shoulder its national responsibility and either publicly condemn the continued crackdown on Hamas or withdraw support from Fayyad.

Al-Ahram Weekly

'Scores dead' as Syrian tanks storm Hama

Palestinians in Lebanon voice growing support for Syrian protesters

By Brooke Andersen

BEIRUT: When Suleiman Ghanem went home to Daraa to get married last March, his friends in Sabra joked that he was going there to die, so they snapped a picture of him. That same picture now hangs over the main street of the Sabra market, a tribute to a young martyr of the Syrian uprising.
The picture of the 24-year-old hangs from loose wires above the poor, crowded and densely populated predominantly Palestinian neighborhood, where many residents have long supported the Syrian government because of its hard line against Israel and the fact that living conditions there for Palestinians are relatively good compared to those in neighboring Lebanon. But today, such support seems to be waning.
“I was against the revolution in the beginning. I thought the Syrian people were comfortable,” said Mohammed Qatantani, a 27-year-old shopkeeper who has taken many trips to Syria over the years, always admiring the good infrastructure, affordable healthcare and rights for Palestinians that he never saw in Lebanon.
“But then I saw the news: the mass graves, the executions and the torture. It looked like Israel had invaded Palestine. Oppression isn’t pretty wherever it happens,” he said. He added that he had been with the Egyptian revolution from day one, because of Mubarak’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza: the repeated closure of the Rafah border crossing, and violent government clampdowns on those who protested. .
It was three weeks into the Syrian uprising – which began March 15 – when Qatantani says he began to change his mind, unable to believe his neighbor, a young man who sold CDs and was engaged to be married, was part of the armed gangs the Syrian government blamed for the unrest.
A series of incidents throughout the uprising contributed to the erosion of Palestinian support for Assad’s government. In a televised press conference on March 24, presidential spokeswoman Bouthaina Shaaban accused foreigners, including Palestinians, of inciting violence.
Two separate demonstrations on the Israeli border, on May 15 and June 5, heightened Palestinian mistrust, as first six and then 20 died at the hands of Israeli forces, with many feeling the Syrian government played an implicit role in the violence by allowing protesters to reach the border.
The deaths led to a mutiny in the Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus, with residents openly casting blame on their local leadership, the Syrian-sponsored Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
The release in May of a video showing the torture of 13-year-old Syrian boy, Hamza Khatib, led the U.S.-based Egyptian Palestinian poet Tamim Barghouti to reject the support of the Syrian government for the Palestinian cause.
“He who tortures a child to death is incapable of liberating a land, nor defeat an enemy, nor provide support to an ally,” he wrote. “If the liberation of Palestine requires torturing the children of Syria, then let it remain under occupation, for that would be better for Syria's and Palestine's children.”
In Sabra, another resident, who declined to give his name, said he was never against the Syrian government until a friend of his died. Now he says he follows the news of the uprising closely and sees the government making “mistake after mistake.”
Syria’s apparent attempt to win over public support through the Palestinian cause seems to have backfired, with once loyal supporters beginning to question the government’s claims.
“Where are these armed foreign gangs coming from?” Qatantani wonders. “They’re killing peaceful protesters, and [refugees are] fleeing to Lebanon and Turkey. From what? Nothing?”
Indeed, as the uprising in Syria continues, many Palestinians appear to be increasingly sympathizing with the anti-government protesters, despite their traditional alliance.
“The position of Palestinians is mixed. On the one hand, Syria treats Palestinians better than any other Arab country. But as for politics, with satellite TV, people make up their minds by what they see,” says Hilal Khashen, a politics professor at the American University of Beirut.
He adds that sectarianism could be a component in Palestinian support for protesters, as Palestinians, like Syrians, are predominantly Sunni. He notes that Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah, a Shiite allied with the Alawite minority leadership in Syria, has made several strong statements against the uprising in Syria, calling the protest movement a foreign conspiracy. Meanwhile, the Palestinians’ Islamic party Hamas, which has a representative office in Damascus, has remained silent on the issue.
He also suggests that Palestinian support for the uprising could be related to Israel’s position.
“Israel doesn’t want regime change. It’s pressing the U.S. to keep Assad in place,” he says. “That’s why the U.S. is making mild statements.”
Samer Abu Fakher, 21, a student at Lebanese American University and a Palestinian activist, says that he supports the uprising in general because of the government’s history of repression in both Syria and Lebanon. But he’s worried about the possible international or Muslim Brotherhood involvement in a new democratic Syria. Either move, Abu Fakher believes, would be bad news for Syria and the Palestinians.
Milad Abdullah, who sells nuts at his shop on Sabra’s main road, says he has never supported the Syrian government because of its role in the Lebanese Civil War, but he understands why some Palestinians continue to do so.
“I think most Palestinians are against the Syrian government but are afraid to talk,” he says.
“They think Syria’s with them, so they should be with Syria. But that’s not right. Syria was never with Palestinians because they loved them, it was just to serve their interest.”