Robert Fisk in The Independent has an account, here, based on his interview with Palestinian billionaire businessman Munib al-Masri, of how the reconciliation agreement came about.
Fisk wrote on 7 June 2011 that “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 Israel from Gaza – since resistance would be the right only of the state – and agreement that a future Palestinian state be based on Israel’s 1967 borders”.
Fisk added that “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 … In three years, members of the Palestinian Forum made more than 12 trips to Damascus, Cairo, Gaza and Europe and a lot of initiatives were rejected. Masri and his colleagues dealt directly with Hamas’ Prime Minister Hanniyeh in Gaza. They took up the so-called ‘prisoner swap initiative’ of Marwan Barghouti, a senior Fatah leader in an Israeli jail; then in the winds of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, the youth of Palestine on 15 March demanded unity and an end to the rivalry of Fatah and Hamas. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had always refused to talk to Abbas on the grounds that the Palestinians were not united. On the 16th, he [Abbas] made a speech saying that he was ‘thinking of going to Gaza’ …
“[Masri said] ‘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 Palestine were to represent the team in Cairo. These are the names which will be in future Palestinian history books. From the West Bank, came Dr Hanna Nasser (head of Bir Zeit University and of the Palestinian central election committee); Dr Mamdouh Aker (the head of the human rights society); Mahdi Abdul-Hadi (chairman of a political society in Jerusalem); Hanni Masri (a political analyst); Iyad Masrouji (businessman in pharmacuticals); Hazem Quasmeh (runs an NGO) and Munib Masri himself. 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)”.
Masri recalled: “These men spent time with the top brass of the Egyptian ‘mukhabarat’ intelligence service … We met them on 10 April but we sent a document before we arrived in Cairo. This is what made it important. In Gaza, there were two different ‘sides’. So we talked about the micro-situation, about Gazans in the ‘jail’ of Gaza, we talked about human rights, the Egyptian blockade, about dignity. Shawa was saying ‘we feel we do not have dignity – and we feel it’s your fault.’ Nadr Asr of the intelligence department said: ‘We’re going to change all that.’ At 7.0 pm, we came back and saw Khaled Orabi again. I told him: ‘Look, I need these things from you. Do you like the new initiative, a package that’s a win-win situation for everyone? Is the Palestinian file still ‘warm’ in Cairo? He said ‘It’s a bit long – but we like it. Can you pressure both Fatah and Hamas, to bring them in? But we will work with you. Go and see Fatah and Hamas – and treat this as confidential.’ We agreed, and went to see Amr Moussa (now a post-revolution Egyptian presidential candidate) at the Arab League. He was at first very cautious – but the next day, Amr Moussa’s team was very positive. We said: ‘Give it a chance – we said that the Arab League was created for Palestine, that the Arab League has a big role in Jerusalem’.”
Then, Masri said, according to Fisk, that “The delegation went to see Nabil al-Arabi at the Egyptian foreign ministry. ‘Al-Arabi said: “Can I bring in the foreign minister of Turkey, who happens to be in Egypt?” So we all talked about the initiative together. We noticed the close relationship between the foreign ministry and the intelligence ministry. That’s how I found out that ‘new’ Egypt had a lot of confidence – they were talking in front of Turkey; they wanted (italics: wanted) to talk in front of Turkey. So we agreed we would all talk together and then I returned with the others to Amman at 9.0 pm’.
Masri told Fisk that “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 Gaza.
Masri continued: “We had seven big meetings in Palestine to put all the groups there and the independents in the picture. Abbas had already given us a presidential decree. I spoke to Khaled Meshaal (head of Hamas, living in Damascus) by phone. He said: ‘Does Abu Mazzen (Abbas) agree to this?’ I said that wasn’t the point. I went to Damascus next day with Hanna Nasser, Mahdi Abdul Hadi and Hanni Masri. Because of all the trouble in Syria, we had to make a detour around Deraa. I had a good rapport with Meshaal. He said he had read our document – and that it was worth looking at.”
Fisk added: “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: “What did Abu Mazzen (Abbas) say?” I laughed and replied: “You always ask me this – but what do you (italics: you) want? We met with Meshaal’s colleagues, Abu Marzouk, Izzat Rishiq and Abu Abdu Rahman. We reviewed the document for six and a half hours. The only thing we didn’t get from Meshaal was that the government has to be by agreement. We told him the government has to be of national unity — on the agreement that we would be able to carry out elections and lift the embargo on Gaza and reconstruct Gaza, that we have to abide by international law, by the UN Charter and UN resolutions. He asked for three or four days. He agreed that resistance must only be ‘in the national interest of the country’ – it would have to be ‘aqlaqi’ – ethical. There would be no more rocket attacks on civilians. In other words, no more rocket attacks from Gaza’. Meshaal told Masri and his friends that he had seen President Bashar Assad of Syria, his vice president Sharaa and Syrian foreign minister Moallem. ‘He said he wanted their support – but in the end it was the word of the Palestinian people. We were very happy – we said ‘there is a small breakthrough’. Meshaal said: ‘We won’t let you down.’ We said we would communicate all this to Fatah and the independents on the West Bank and to the Egyptians. In the West Bank, Fatah called it the ‘Hamas initiative’ — but we said no, it is from everybody. After two days, Meshaal said he had spoken to Egyptian intelligence and they like what we have offered’. The talks had been successful. Meshaal was persuaded to send two of his top men to Cairo. Masri’s team hoped that Abbas would do the same. Four men – two from each side – travelled to Egypt on 22 April. A year earlier, when there was a familiar impasse between the two sides in Egypt, the Moubarak regime tried to place further obstacles between them. Meshaal had fruitlessly met with Omar Sulieman – Mubarak’s intelligence factotum and Israel’s best friend in the Arab world – in Mecca. Sulieman effectively worked for the Israelis. Now all had changed utterly”.
Fisk’s account continued: “On the day Abbas and Meshaal went to Cairo, everyone went except the two rival prime ministers, Fayad and Hanniyeh. Hamas agreed that over the past four years, the Israelis had seized more of Jerusalem and built many more settlements in the occupied West Bank. Meshaal was angry when he thought he would not be allowed to speak from the podium with the others – in the event, he was – and Hamas agreed on the 1967 border, effectively acknowledging Israel’s existence, and to the reference to the ‘resistance’; and to give Abbas more time for negotiation. 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 America should be prepared to see Hamas ageeing on the formation of the government. That government will abide by UN resolutions – and international law. It’s got to be mutual. Both sides realised they might miss the boat of the Arab spring. It wasn’t me who did this – it was a compilation of many efforts. If it was not for Egypt and the willingness of the two Palestinian groups, this would not have happened’. In the aftermath of the agreement, Hamas and Abbas’ loyalists agreed to stop arresting members of each side”.
Fisk wrote, in conclusion: “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 Israel and the ‘resistance’ initiative means an end to Gaza rockets on Israel. International law and UN resolutions mean peace can be completed and a Palestinian state brought into being. That, at least, is the opinion of both Palestinian sides. The world will wait to see if Israel will reject it all again”.