Hamas’ supreme leader says his group will not give up its weapons, a vow that is sure to complicate reconciliation talks with the rival Fatah movement, The Washington Post reports:
In an interview with Egypt’s private On TV, Ismail Haniyeh said Tuesday that his group has “the right to possess weapons and resist the occupation with all forms of resistance.” The fate of Hamas’ large arsenal of rockets, mortar shells and automatic weapons is a major sticking point in the reconciliation talks that began on Monday. Fatah’s leader, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, says that all weapons must be under his control. He said Monday that he would not allow Hamas to act like Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group that operates freely in its country.
Abbas addressed this point specifically, saying, “I won’t accept the reproduction of the Hezbollah experience of Lebanon” in Gaza, insisting that just as his security forces arrest those in the West Bank with illegal arms, the same would occur in Gaza. He added that without Palestinian unity, “there is no Palestinian state.”
Beleaguered Gazans exulted at seeing the two main Palestinian factions take an important step toward reconciliation on Monday, as the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister arrived to take the reins of their impoverished territory’s government, The New York Times adds:
If the effort succeeds, the Palestinians could have a unified leadership for the first time in a decade, potentially giving them more leverage in their push for an independent state…. Eran Lerman, a former deputy director of Israel’s National Security Council, said that while a Hezbollah-like arrangement in Gaza would be no improvement in Israel’s eyes, there were good reasons Israel had not yet responded negatively to the Palestinian reconciliation efforts.
“One is that the Egyptian role is overt, aggressive, and we basically have the same instincts as the Egyptians do when it comes to Hamas (right), but of course they have ways of influencing what is happening in Gaza that Israel no longer has,” he said. “The consequence is that we basically trust them to take steps that restrain Hamas and undermine their legitimacy in the long run.”
Another reason for Israel’s forbearance, Mr. Lerman said, was that Hamas had grasped “that the people of Gaza are sick and tired of the deprivation that is caused by aspects of Hamas rule,” whether in prioritizing military over civilian spending or in provoking Mr. Abbas to impose sanctions.
Yet, most analysts expect the reconciliation process to fail, as previous attempts have. While administrative control will be handed over, the Hamas government will retain authority over security, a factor that political analysts say is likely to result in the failure of the unity government, Al Jazeera reports.
“Both sides are cautious and moving cautiously towards each other,” said Mohammed Daraghmen, a political analyst based in Ramallah. “There are still huge political, security and administrative differences that are unsolved,” he added. “I think Gazans need to wait a long time until they see significant changes happening on the ground.”
Hamas hasn’t come to this point by choice: It has been compelled into this political maneuver, argues Muhammad Shehada, a civil society activist from the Gaza Strip The move towards Fatah is a way of sharing the burden of Gazans’ disaffection and criticisms of the Hamas administration with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
Recent tensions in Gaza indicated a social explosion was imminent, he writes for Haaretz. Its Consultative Council recently debated whether, if the people were to defy Hamas and protest in the streets, Hamas would resort to imposing a general curfew and firing rockets on Israel to break the unpopularity bottleneck, adds Shehada, formerly the PR officer for the Gaza office of the Euro-Med Monitor for Human Rights.
The Palestinians, sandwiched by Fatah-Hamas internecine warfare and Abbas’s increasingly authoritarian rule, care more deeply about basic quality of life issues than endless war, argue James Prince, president of the Democracy Council, an international nonprofit nongovernmental organization, and former consultant to the Palestinian minister of finance, and Glenn Yago, senior director of the Jerusalem Institute’s Milken Innovation Center:
The unpopular Abbas, 12 years into a four-year elected term, has no legitimacy to publicly consider any significant compromises. His inability to reunite the Gaza Strip with the West Bank after 10 years of separation and recent campaign to lay siege to Gaza further illustrates his lack of any conceivable mandate to lead.
Egypt’s autocratic ruler, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (right) is promoting reconciliation because Hamas’s overtures to Iran and Syria are in part designed to raise the stakes for Egypt, which along with a Saudi-led group of Gulf states, is bitterly opposed to increased Iranian and Shia influence in the region, Al Jazeera reports.
“Hamas does not want to have to choose,” the International Crisis Group’s Nathan Thrall told Al Jazeera. “It wants Egypt and the Gulf’s diplomatic support, but it knows that Iran will offer military backing in a way the Sunni states won’t.”
Menachem Klein, a politics professor at Bar Ilan University, near Tel Aviv, and an expert on Israeli-Egyptian relations, said Hamas had been gradually winning Sisi’s confidence. “The politicisation of Hamas has been gaining momentum since it took part in, and won, the 2006 [Palestinian national] elections,” he told Al Jazeera. He pointed out that Hamas’s revised charter, published in May, had opened the door to further cooperation with Cairo by effectively renouncing the group’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Egypt and Hamas have shared interests. Hamas can limit the influence of ISIL in Gaza and ensure [Gaza’s existing ISIL] supporters cannot connect with ISIS in Sinai. In return, Egypt can open the Rafah crossing and break Israel’s closure.”
But skepticism is appropriate, since besides agreeing to talk, the two sides have not really done anything yet. In particular, they have not made concessions on the thorniest issues, analyst Ben Lynfield writes for The Jerusalem Post:
- One of these is the fate of 43,000 Hamas-appointed government employees in Gaza. A 2014 reconciliation agreement foundered over this, with Fatah saying they should be sacked and Hamas insisting on their integration into the PA administration.
- An even greater challenge is security. Abbas and the PA want full security control of Gaza and to avoid having a Hezbollah-like situation in the Strip, while Hamas is adamant that its Izzedin al-Qassam brigades be left intact so that it can combat Israel. Hamas deputy political chief Musa Abu Marzouk was quoted in media reports recently as saying Hamas will not agree to discuss a change in the brigades’ status with Fatah.
In any event, reconciliation is unlikely to bring the Palestinians any closer to statehood as long as they celebrate terrorism, argues Elliott Abrams, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, where he maintains a blog, Pressure Points. A healthy and sustainable democratic polity requires a profound shift in Palestinian political culture, says Abrams, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, and author of Realism and Democracy: American Foreign Policy after the Arab Spring.
But the rejection of political violence seems a distant prospect.
“I will break the neck of anyone who doesn’t want the reconciliation, whoever he is, from Hamas or any other faction,” Yehya Sinwar, Gaza’s prime minister, told a group of youths in a speech last week.
This has been oriented around the “inclusion-moderation hypothesis,” the notion that the more democratization there is in a given polity, the more Islamist groups moderate their rhetoric and policy on a variety of indicators, Brookings analysts Will McCants and Shadi Hamid suggest:
This has also been expressed in policymaking circles, including most famously by President George W. Bush, as the “pothole theory” of democracy. The Brotherhood’s growing illiberalism during the democratic opening of 2011 to 2013 as well as AKP’s embrace of “soft” Islamization suggest that the responsibilities of government do not necessarily compel Islamists toward the political center, something which Hamid discusses in detail in his book “Temptations of Power.”