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Egypt and the Fatah-Hamas Unity Deal

Samara Greenberg

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal formally endorsed a Palestinian unity deal in a ceremony in Cairo Wednesday in an attempt to end the four-year rift between Fatah and Hamas. The deal, brokered by the caretaker Egyptian government last week, was previously signed by officials from all the Palestinian factions and sets the goal of creating a single Palestinian government over the West Bank and Gaza Strip and holding elections within one year.

Much can be said on the structure of the deal itself, its future implications on Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and U.S. policies, and whether or not the unity government will even last. However, how the deal was finalized is also an interesting topic of discussion. Indeed, it is more proof of the new foreign policy route Egypt’s leaders are pursuing in the post-Mubarak era.

Palestinians in Gaza celebrate the unity deal. For the first time since 2007, Hamas allowed the yellow Fatah flag to be displayed.

For the first time in years, Egypt invited Hamas’ leaders to meet at the headquarters of the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs instead of at a hotel or the intelligence agency. Hamas leaders also reportedly met with Egypt’s interim president, Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi. Moreover, while Mubarak previously pressured Hamas to abandon its armed resistance and recognize Israel during reconciliation discussions, the current Egyptian government did no such thing.

All this follows other concerning developments. On Sunday, Egypt announced it plans to permanently open its border with the Gaza Strip. Under Mubarak, Egypt tightly controlled its border with Gaza and opened the crossing only sporadically for food and medicine to pass through. In addition, Egypt has indicated it seeks to normalize relations with Iran, whose influence Mubarak’s Egypt checked amid concerns over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions and terrorist ties. Last month, Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi said, “Egypt has opened a new page with all countries of the world, including Iran.”

Egypt’s foreign policy direction is changing, and fast. Perhaps it’s time for Washington to clarify to Cairo the consequences it may face because of its actions.