by Azzam Tamimi
For a change, all concerned parties seem eager to see Palestinian reconciliation succeed. Each player has its own reasons, of course. Yet, it would not have been possible to come this far so quickly had it not been for the deepening humanitarian crisis inside the Gaza Strip and the growing predicament that Hamas, which controls Gaza, finds itself in as a result. There is no doubt that the siege imposed on Gaza by Israel and Egypt has achieved its objectives. Life has become so unbearable in the Strip that public opinion is overwhelmingly in favour of any deal that promises easing the pressure.
This has prompted Hamas to express readiness to make concessions that had until recently been inconceivable. The full extent of these concessions is, however, unclear, and the deal under discussion is shrouded in ambiguity. What is known thus far is that Hamas has agreed to disband its own administrative committee in charge of the Gaza Strip in a prelude to handing over control to the Ramallah-based Palestinian National Authority (PNA), whose prime minister, Rami al-Hamdallah, arrived in the Strip on Sunday for the handover by Hamas. As part of the new arrangement, Hamas is expected to relinquish control over the border crossings with Egypt and Israel.
While some Hamas leaders have maintained that the movement’s military force is not up for negotiation, Fatah spokespersons insist that reinstating the PNA in Gaza would have to result in an end to all military manifestations outside the control of the PNA. It is inconceivable that the Americans and the Israelis, who are said to be in favour of the current reconciliation effort, will settle for anything less than dismantling Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’s military wing. This is believed also to be the position of the government in Cairo.
Another important factor that brought about a shift in Hamas’s position was the election of a new leadership. Over the past decade, Hamas developed a complex organisational structure that consisted of three regional administrations – one for Gaza, a second for the West Bank, and a third for the diaspora – and an overarching leadership.
In February 2017, a new leadership for the Gaza region was elected, with Yahya al-Sinwar, a freed war prisoner, as its head. A few months later, Ismail Haniyyah was elected as the new head of the overarching leadership. Both men are based in Gaza.
In the past, decision-making within Hamas was a laborious process. The head of the political bureau had to consult with the leadership of every region as well as with his comrades in the overarching structure. When former Hamas leader Khaled Mesha'al once violated this norm by individually consenting to a proposed arrangement with PNA president Mahmoud Abbas without consultation, he was severely criticised, particularly by Hamas leaders inside Gaza. Now the exact opposite is happening. Hamas leaders in Gaza are accused of not being bothered to consult with anyone. It is no longer a secret that tension has been building within the movement since Sinwar decided, on his own, to meet and negotiate with his former schoolmate Mohammed Dahlan, a close associate of Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed and an arch enemy of Hamas.
But to his credit, Sinwar seems to be consistent with the public mood within Gaza. People are not only exhausted because of the siege and want to see it end, but they are also tired of remaining the prisoners of old rivalries. Dahlan was Fatah’s main security person when war erupted between Fatah and Hamas in the Strip in June 2007, resulting in the death of dozens on both sides and with the eventual takeover by Hamas in Gaza and by Fatah in the West Bank.
Today, the new leaders of Hamas want to turn over this dark page in the history of the strip. Hamas’s Cairo meetings with Dahlan, who now commands the loyalty of nearly half of Fatah’s members of the Palestinian Legislative Council and is a serious rival of Abbas, paved the way for what is known as community reconciliation. With funding from the United Arab Emirates and cooperation from Egypt, Dahlan set up a fund to compensate families who are willing to be part of a programme aimed at healing old wounds. Each family stands to receive the sum of $50 000 in exchange for publicly renouncing demands to avenge the deaths of family members.
Finally, Hamas has been considerably weakened in recent years. Since 2008, it has been the target of three major Israeli military campaigns and numerous smaller attacks and incursions. Yet, the most devastating development has been the success of the UAE and Saudi Arabia in aborting the Middle East and North Africa uprisings. The 2013 military coup in Egypt was a particularly catastrophic blow to Hamas. Since then, the movement has been left deserted and besieged. Earlier, disagreement with Iran over Syria cost it hundreds of millions of dollars in Iranian sponsorship of its Gaza administration, not to speak of the lost military and logistical support both Iran and Syria used to provide.
Palestinian reconciliation is likely to succeed this time around because all parties concerned desire to see it succeed. Egypt has a chronic security problem in Sinai and has concluded that Gaza can be part of the solution rather than the problem. The Arab counterrevolution states, particularly the UAE and Saudi Arabia, believe that Palestinian reconciliation will pave the way for official diplomatic and trade relations with Israel. It is no secret that these Arabs are dying to go public with their Israeli ties, but are barred by the lack of progress in the peace process. They believe that once Fatah and Hamas are reconciled, the PNA and Israel can resume final-status talks, and once the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is fully resolved they will be able to justify ending their own public hostility toward Israel.
It is very likely, therefore, that the success of Palestinian reconciliation will mark the end of an era and the beginning of another in the history of Palestinian resistance. If so, and if ever allowed, Hamas may, under new terms, revert gradually to being a modified version of what it used to be before December 1987, a socio-religious movement. But will it ever be allowed to do so? With the military in control of Egypt, it is highly doubtful.
* Azzam Tamimi is a British Palestinian academic, political activist, and author of Hamas: Unwritten Chapters and Hamas: A History from Within
By Aisling Byrne
"Sincerely speaking," said General Dayton, "as far I am concerned, Hamas is a political issue. I do not interfere in this matter." He continued: "I would appreciate if you do not ask me political questions because, as a soldier, I do not speak in politics." Such innocuous protests from General Dayton – who, since 2005, has been the US Security Coordinator for the Palestinians – are untrue: Dayton is a political actor who essentially is overseeing and facilitating a process of political cleansing in the West Bank, the consequences of which are damaging, if not disastrous, for the Palestinian national project, for political reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, and for political engagement and prospects for peace. In essence, Dayton's work serves to enforce Israel's occupation, even if this is not its explicit intention.
By Dr. Mohsen Saleh
The Palestinian reconciliation agreement still lacks the necessary momentum to transform it into a practical programme that has the potential to be implemented on the ground. Sixth months have lapsed since the signing of the reconciliation agreement on 3 May 2011, yet no genuine initiatives have been presented for its implementation. This despite the fact that negotiations between Fatah and Hamas happened throughout most of 2009, and it took nearly eighteen months to respond to Hamas' objections. Although the 4 100-word draft agreement was thorough and detailed, it appears to lack any sign of life.
By International Crisis Group The threat by the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas not to run in the next elections is only the latest sign of the crisis facing Fatah, the movement he heads. Fatah's challenge is to clearly define its agenda, how to carry it out and with whom.
Palestine: Salvaging Fatah, the latest background report from the International Crisis Group, examines the current state of the 50-year-old movement which has been the heart of Palestinian nationalism. It argues that while Fatah has begun long-overdue internal reforms to revitalise the movement, much remains to be done. In particular, Fatah's leaders need to clarify its political strategy if it is to play an effective role in leading Palestinians toward a two-state solution.
By Afro-Middle East Centre
On 12 June 2014, three teenage boys were reported missing from Gush Etzion, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank near Hebron. The Israeli government quickly accused Hamas of kidnapping the boys and announced ‘Operation Brother’s Keeper’ – the most extensive military deployment on the West Bank since the second intifada. Israeli officials said the operation had two objectives: to find the missing settlers; and to crack down on Hamas. Thus, the operation must be understood in the context of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s failed peace initiative, and the decision by Fatah and Hamas to form a unity government. The operation has substantially targeted Hamas: 500 abductions/arrests have already occurred; 269 of these are Hamas members and twelve are parliamentarians who could have served in a unity government.