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Palestinians end divisive year with uncertain future - Daily News Egypt

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Palestinians end divisive year with uncertain future

Palestinians capped a topsy-turvy year even by their standards with a schism that threatens to tear them apart and a promise from the international community that they will have their own state by the end of 2008.The year 2007 kicked off with rival factions Fatah and Hamas at loggerheads. Hamas had won the elections the …


Palestinians capped a topsy-turvy year even by their standards with a schism that threatens to tear them apart and a promise from the international community that they will have their own state by the end of 2008.The year 2007 kicked off with rival factions Fatah and Hamas at loggerheads. Hamas had won the elections the year before, but Fatah was still the Palestinian state’s representative in the stalled peace process with Israel. As the year rolled in, the two main political groups were at each other’s throats.Fighting between the factions was an on and off affair with brief truces (usually brokered by Egypt) punctuating intense bouts of hostility. In just three days of clashes in January, 34 people were killed. At the same time international efforts were underway on the Palestinian-Israeli front, and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice took the lead, meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in Berlin in early February.Under the auspices of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdallah in Mecca in the same month, the Arabs negotiated the formation of a unity government bringing together Fatah and Hamas. However, by May the situation between the Palestinian factions had become untenable In-fighting between Fatah and Hamas meant that the recently formed unity government had reached the end of its tether.As the fighting continued, the international community unequivocally declared their support for Fatah over Hamas, with Egypt – hitherto the arbiter between the two sides – allegedly allowing 500 trained Fatah soldiers to enter the Gaza strip in May. Only Iran and Syria backed the elected Hamas government.One week of clashes in May saw 40 people killed before a hasty ceasefire on May 16 when Egypt hosted members from both sides as well as representatives of other factions in the territories to again seek common ground.The fighting reached its inevitable conclusion in June, when Hamas managed to oust Fatah entirely from the Gaza strip, while the West Bank remained under the control of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Now the geographical split had occurred to solidify the political one.By mid-June Abbas had dissolved the now defunct unity government and sworn in a new cabinet, headed by Salam Fayyad as Prime Minister. Haniyeh refused to recognize the new government and vowed to continue ruling from Gaza. Now that the split between Fatah and Hamas had become tangible, the international community puts its weight behind the PA. Egypt moved its embassy from Gaza to Ramallah in the West Bank by the end of June, and the EU fully restored ties with the PA, as most of the Western world, the EU considers Hamas to be a terrorist group and will have no affiliation with it.As soon as the Gaza strip fell to Hamas, the Rafah border crossing between it and Egypt was closed off. Gaza was now surrounded and closed off, with the Hamas government at its center completely isolated.The closure of the crossing proved a crisis for the 4,000 Palestinians who had fled into Egypt from the Gaza strip during the fighting. They remained stranded in Egypt for months until a compromise was reached wherein they entered Israeli territory through Al-Oja crossing in South Sinai and then entered Gaza via the Erez crossing controlled by Israel.This was a solution that worked for most of those stranded, but some who were affiliated to Hamas refused to return via that route out of fear of capture by Israeli authorities. It was only much later that Egypt allowed some 100 Hamas members to return to Gaza in the middle of the night through the Rafah crossing, which was and is officially closed.July also saw the appointment of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair as the new Middle East Quarter envoy for peace. The decision was not well-received in the region due to Blair’s position on Iraq during his reign as PM.Paradoxically, the Palestinian schism invigorated the peace process as the international community and Israel saw it as a chance to bolster Fatah and curb Hamas. In August, Olmert became the first Israeli PM to visit a Palestinian territory in seven years when he met with Abbas in the West Bank.This was followed by a period of intense diplomacy by Rice to lay the groundwork for a US-sponsored peace conference announced by US President George Bush in the summer. No specifics were given; the Americans maintained a conscious ambiguity about the conference to avoid any sense of failure.This ambiguity frustrated the Arabs, chief amongst them Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa, who cast doubt on the validity of this conference and its success. However the Arabs changed their tack once the details of the conference were declared. It was to be held in Annapolis in November.The one day conference on Nov. 26 was attended by Arab state representatives, including Syria, as well as the Palestinians and Israelis. An agreement was reached to resume dormant peace negotiations between the two sides with the hope of creating a Palestinian state by the end of 2008. Core issues, including the borders of the future state, the status of Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees were to be discussed in the negotiations.With that, 2007 could be seen as a watershed in Palestinian history either marking the beginning of a brighter year which would see the Palestinians have their own state; or a bleak one where Gaza and its residents continue to lay in economic ruin. 2008 might prove to be a more important year for the Palestinians with their future so finely balanced.

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https://www.dailynewsegypt.com/2007/12/30/palestinians-end-divisive-year-with-uncertain-future/
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