Written by Khaled Abu Toameh
As Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas continues to talk about his commitment to the peace process and security coordination with Israel, his new partners in the “national consensus government,” Hamas, seem to be preparing for war against the “Zionist enemy.”
For the first time, Hamas has chosen not to prevent other Palestinian groups from launching rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip. Until recently, Hamas had moved to stop Islamic Jihad and other terror groups from launching rockets at Israel, to avoid an Israeli reprisal.
Hamas did so not because it believes in the peace process with Israel or is opposed to harming innocent civilians. The only reason why Hamas made an effort to stop the rocket attacks was its desire to remain in power and keep its leaders alive.
But after it signed the reconciliation agreement with Fatah, resulting in the formation of the “national consensus government”, Hamas’s strategy appears to have changed.
Hamas leaders seem to believe that since they have become part of the Western-backed Palestinian Authority [PA] government, the agreement with Fatah will give them some kind of immunity against Israeli retaliation.
Hamas seems to be hoping that the reconciliation accord, which was signed in the Gaza Strip in April, will legitimize the Islamist movement in the eyes of the international community. Abbas himself even contributed to the legitimization of Hamas by repeatedly assuring the U.S. and many EU countries that the new Palestinian government would recognize Israel and renounce violence.
Today, however, it has become obvious that the reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah faction has had no moderating effect on the Islamist movement. On the contrary, Hamas seems to be headed toward more extremism and its defiant leaders are now talking about preparations for a new intifada against Israel.
Former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh announced this week that the intifada against Israel has actually begun in the West Bank. “Israeli threats do not scare us,” he declared.
Another Hamas leader, Mahmoud Zahar, announced that his movement was now capable of firing rockets at any city inside Israel. “Today our rockets can reach any city inside occupied Palestine any time we want,” he said. “We have the right to defend ourselves and liberate our lands and holy sites regardless of the price and although we know that this would cost us lives of our sons and our homes.”
Abbas has thus far failed to condemn his Hamas partners for threatening to fire rockets at Israel.
Although Abbas is now formally in charge of the Gaza Strip, he has failed to demand that Hamas dismantle its armed group, The Ezzedeen Al-Qassam Brigades, and other security branches belonging to the Islamist movement. Nor has he demanded the return of PA security forces to the Gaza Strip.
In fact, the reconciliation accord has not changed the reality on the ground, particularly in the Gaza Strip, which remains under the control of Hamas. True, Hamas did dissolve its government, but it continues to control the entire Gaza Strip exclusively, even after the formation of the “national consensus government.”
Hamas’s actions and statements over the past few days show that the movement is continuing to prepare for war against Israel despite Abbas’s assurances that the new government would reject violence.
Hamas has been holding “military drills” this month in various parts of the Gaza Strip, seemingly in preparation for a war against Israel. And Hamas is making no secret of its plans.
The military exercises coincide with the launching of Hamas-run summer camps for Palestinian children throughout the Gaza Strip. As in previous years, these summer camps are being used to give schoolchildren training in guerrilla warfare.
Hamas says that these camps are being held with a “resistance flavor” in order to raise new generations of Palestinians on jihad.
Hamas seems to have reached the conclusion that the reconciliation pact with Abbas will not do it any good. As one Hamas spokesman put it, “We have discovered that Abbas is the same Abbas. He claims he wants reconciliation with us, but at the same time he is helping the Zionist enemy in its war against Hamas in the West Bank.”
Abbas’s refusal to pay salaries to more than 50,000 Hamas employees in the Gaza Strip since the formation of the new government has only reinforced the Islamist movement’s conviction that the reconciliation accord with Fatah was a bad deal.
Hamas apparently feels betrayed by both Abbas and his Fatah faction. All this is happening while Abbas continues to talk about Palestinian “unity” and his commitment to the peace process with Israel.
Like many in the international community, Abbas is continuing to bury his head in the sand by refusing to see what his Hamas partners are up to.
The “national consensus government” will now have to decide whether it is headed toward peace with Israel or toward war.