Senior Palestinian and Egyptian officials met in Cairo on Monday for the first time in “many years” as leaders of Hamas and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) met in Qatar for the first time in over a year.
Officials began the first of two days of preparatory meetings on Monday at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Cairo. The consultations precede an upcoming meeting of the Egyptian-Palestinian Joint Committee and for a meeting at the level of foreign ministers, according to the Palestinian embassy in Cairo.
The convening of the joint committee is the first “for many years”, said the Palestinian embassy in its Sunday statement.
The meetings come in the wake of a surprise move towards reconciliation between the PLO and Hamas, after the two factions split following the latter’s legislative victory in the Gaza Strip in 2006.
President of the Palestinian National Authority Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Meshaal met in Doha to further discuss the unity deal signed at the end of April. “The meeting took place in a positive atmosphere through which both Palestinian leaders expressed their serious will to build a new page based on national partnership,” said a Hamas statement published following the meeting.
The meeting in Doha is the first time the two leaders have met face-to-face since they convened in Cairo in January 2013, when they discussed reconciliation with former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi.
In the text of the unity deal, which aims to “form a government of national consensus”, both Hamas and the PLO expressed “the value of and their appreciation for the Egyptian role in overseeing the reconciliation agreement,” adding that Cairo’s involvement “will continue”.
The unification came at a time when final status negotiations between the Israelis and the PLO were approaching the 29 April deadline, and it provoked the ire of the Israelis, which view Hamas as a terrorist group. The talks, sponsored by the United States, have now broken down, dealing another blow to the prospects for peace in the decades-old conflict.
Egypt has also had its issues with Hamas recently, as the group has close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared a terrorist organisation. Hamas has been accused by Egypt of taking part in the militant insurgency in North Sinai that intensified following Morsi’s ouster last year, which Hamas has denied.
In March, an Egypt court banned the activities of Hamas in Egypt, where the group had established administrative offices.
Another point of contention between Egypt and Hamas is the regulation of the Rafah border crossing, which is monitored by the Egyptian side and is opened sporadically for a few days a time. The smuggling tunnels connecting Sinai and the Gaza Strip, which are used to transport building materials, fuel, vehicles and people across the border have been targeted and destroyed by the Egyptian army as part of its anti-militant operations in the volatile Sinai Peninsula. Hamas Prime Minister of Gaza Ismail Haniyeh called in April for the border to be opened permanently to ease the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza strip.