: the untold story of the deal that shocked the Middle East
Exclusive by Robert Fisk
Tuesday, 7 June 2011
Secret meetings between Palestinian intermediaries, Egyptian intelligence officials, the Turkish foreign minister, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal – the latter requiring a covert journey to Damascus with a detour round the rebellious city of Deraa – brought about the Palestinian unity which has so disturbed both Israelis and the American government. Fatah and Hamas ended four years of conflict in May with an agreement that is crucial to the Paslestinian demand for a state.
A series of detailed letters, accepted by all sides, of which The Independent has copies, show just how complex the negotiations were; Hamas also sought – and received – the support of Syrian President Bachar al-Assad, the country’s vice president Farouk al-Sharaa and its foreign minister, Walid Moallem. Among the results was an agreement by Meshaal to end Hamas rocket attacks on
“Without the goodwill of all sides, the help of the Egyptians and the acceptance of the Syrians – and the desire of the Palestinians to unite after the start of the Arab Spring, we could not have done this,” one of the principal intermediaries, 75-year old Munib Masri, told me. It was Masri who helped to set up a ‘Palestinian Forum’ of independents after the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority and Hamas originally split after Hamas won an extraordinary election victory in 2006. “I thought the divisions that had opened up could be a catastrophe and we went for four years back and forth between the various parties,” Masri said. “Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) asked me several times to mediate. We opened meetings in the
In three years, members of the Palestinian Forum made more than 12 trips to
“I thought Hamas would answer in a positive way,” he recalls. “But in the first two or three days after Abbas’ speech, it gave a rather negative response. He had wanted an immediate election and no dialogue. Hamas did not appreciate this.” Abbas went off to
“We wrote a document – we said we would go to see the Egyptians, to congratulate them upon their revolution. So we had two meetings with the Egyptian head of intelligence, Khaled Orabi – Orabi’s father was an army general at the time of King Farouk – and we met Mohamed Ibrahim, an officer in the intelligence department.” Ibrahim’s father had won renown in the 1973 war when he captured the highest ranking Israeli officer in Sinai. The delegation also met Ibrahim’s deputies, Nadr Aser and Yassir Azawi.
Seven people from each part of
The Gaza ‘side’ were represented by Eyad Sarraj (who in the event could not go to Cairo because he was ill); Maamoun Abu Shahla (member of the board of Palestine Bank); Faysal Shawa (businessman and landowner); Mohsen Abu Ramadan (writer); Rajah Sourani (head of Arab human rights, who did not go to Cairo); ‘Abu Hassan’ (Islamic Jihad member who was sent by Sarraj); and Sharhabil Al-Zaim (a Gaza lawyer).
“These men spent time with the top brass of the Egyptian ‘mukhabarat’ intelligence service,” Masri recalls. “We met them on 10 April but we sent a document before we arrived in
“At 7.0 pm, we came back and saw Khaled Orabi again. I told him
The delegation went to see Nabil al-Arabi at the Egyptian foreign ministry. “Al-Arabi said
The team went to the West Bank to report – “we were happy, we never had this feeling before” – and tell Azzam Ahmed (Fatah’s head of reconciliation) that they intended to support Mahmoud Abbas’s initiative over
It was a sign of the mutual distrust between Hamas and Abbas that they both seemed intent on knowing the other’s reaction to the initiative before making up their own minds. “Meshaal said to me
Meshaal told Masri and his friends that he had seen President Bashar Assad of
The talks had been successful. Meshaal was persuaded to send two of his top men to
On the day Abbas and Meshaal went to
If Hamas was in the government, it would have to recognise the State of Israel. But if they were not, they would not recognise anything. “It’s not fair to say ‘Hamas must do the following’, Masri says. “The resistance must also be reciprocal. But as long as they are not in the Palestinian government, Hamas are just a political party and can say anything they want. So
The secret story of Palestinian unity is now revealed. Israeli prime minister Netanyahu’s reaction to the news – having originally refused to negotiate with Palestinians because they were divided – was to say that he would not talk to Abbas if Hamas came into the Palestinian government. President Obama virtually dismissed the Palestinian unity initiative. But 1967 borders means that Hamas is accepting
* The Masri family have been in the Palestinian resistance all their lives. As a small boy Munib Rashid Masri, from a respected family of Palestinian merchants, was demonstrating against British rule in
* Three of his children fought with Arafat's PLO in southern
* He was introduced to Yasser Arafat in 1963 by the PLO leader's deputy, Abu Jihad – Khalil al-Wazzir, later murdered by the Israelis in Tunis – and helped to smuggle money and passports to the guerrillas, but got on well with King Hussain of Jordan.
* With Arafat's permission, he briefly became
* After the
* The investment company is now valued at $1.5bn, running telecoms, tourism and a stock market, responsible for the wellbeing of 27 per cent of the Palestinian economy – and 450,000 Palestinians.
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