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Palestinian reconciliation is good news, but…

Oct 03,2017 - Last updated at Oct 03,2017

Israel will not be happy with the reported reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) led by Mahmoud Abbas — unless the outcome is tailored fully to its needs.

With much fanfare, Rami Hamdallah, the PA prime minister, visited Gaza this week, the first PA step for, supposedly, resuming its role there.

It is easy to lose count of the number of previous reconciliation efforts, though expectations — or at least hopes — are that this one stands a better chance. 

But is it the case?

The Hamas leadership in Gaza confronts impossible circumstances. 

Gaza has been under Israeli siege for a decade — a blockade supported fully by the so-called international community and Abbas — that has caused untold suffering.

The goal of deliberately inflicting this collective punishment has been to force Hamas to hand over responsibility for the 2 million people in Gaza to the Ramallah authority, which enjoys the support of the so-called international community.

The Hamas administration in Gaza had distinguished itself from Abbas’ Fateh movement and the PA it runs, on the grounds that Hamas won free and fair elections in 2006.

Hamas was never allowed to properly assume its responsibilities as it faced a united front from all those supporting the blockade to force it from power.

But Hamas’ formal electoral mandate — like that of Abbas’ presidency — expired long ago and both movements face a legitimacy crisis.

Hamas also points out that it is a resistance movement — its armed wing has fought three wars with Israel in the last decade — while the Ramallah authority collaborates closely with the occupier, a policy fiercely criticised by Hamas and other Palestinian factions.

But since the last major Israeli massacre in Gaza three years ago, Hamas has been committed to an open-ended ceasefire with Israel, which it scrupulously enforced. In other words, given Gaza’s dire situation, the option of military resistance is at this time one intended to deter Israel, not an option to go on the offensive.

With Gaza sinking deeper into poverty and isolation, there is a huge appetite there for something that will radically change the situation.

Egypt appears to have played a key role in brokering the latest reconciliation, but everything will depend on how it is implemented in coming weeks and months.

It is not realistic to expect that the siege will be lifted altogether — because ultimately Israel remains in control and there is no international pressure on it to end the cruel and illegal policy.

But in the immediate future, the deal will have to ease the living conditions of people in Gaza, hopefully.

Another key issue is the Rafah crossing with Egypt, the main exit and entry for Gaza’s population. It has remained closed with few exceptions for three years. 

Egypt and the so-called international community, not to mention Israel, want the PA to be put in charge there again.

After Israel withdrew its occupation forces to the perimeter of Gaza in 2005, the crossing was placed under PA control. But Israel remained the real gatekeeper by remote control, through European Union “monitors”.

A PA return to the Rafah crossing could mean, in effect, the return of Israeli control.

There are other key questions that will not long be covered up by all the goodwill over Hamdallah’s visit.

What will happen to the Hamas resistance forces, their weapons, their personnel and their military hierarchy?

Will Israel tolerate their continued existence even if they remain committed to an indefinite ceasefire?

Will the PA accept the existence of parallel armed forces to its own?

There are PA voices who insist that the PA is the only one allowed to be armed, and such statements were specifically meant to render Hamas’ possession of weapons an outlaw practice.

The big difference is that under the Oslo accords, PA weapons are meant strictly for use against Palestinians, while Hamas’ weapons are aimed to deter the occupier.

Disarming Hamas will turn out to be a very thorny, likely insurmountable issue, much like calls for disarming Hizbollah in Lebanon.

Israel may put that as a condition for easing the siege. The classic excuse will be that Israel would be in no position to allow the free import of material Hamas may use for manufacturing and stockpiling more rockets.

But it seems impossible to imagine that Hamas will abandon the one asset — its military resistance capacity — that deters Israel from rolling into Gaza whenever it wants, as it does daily in the towns and cities of the West Bank that are supposedly under PA control.

And will the so-called security cooperation that exists in the West Bank between the PA and Israel be extended to Gaza, and if so, how much conflict and chaos would that create?

Israel will not allow the envisaged reconciliation to unite the West Bank with Gaza in any substantial way.

It will not allow reconciliation to empower the Palestinian position and make the Palestinians politically stronger in any future negotiations.

It will not thank the PA for taking control of what Israeli officials refer to as “Hamas land”.

On the contrary, the PA will find itself under constant Israeli pressure and complaints that it is not doing enough to rid Gaza of any element of resistance.

That is the relationship in the West Bank, where the PA has been fiercely cracking down on all manner of resistance for years, while Israeli leaders hurl insults and punishment at Abbas and demand even more.

 

All this points to a truth that is little appreciated: the “division” between Palestinians is not the problem. The problem remains Israel and how to deal with it.

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Comments

Best piece I have read in ages.

This writer is brilliant He knows what is going on.

This writer is brilliant He knows what is going on.

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