I had written recently that a unity government between Fatah and Hamas was exceedingly unlikely to happen. I don’t think it has happened, even though a preliminary “reconciliation” agreement between the two parties is now being “celebrated.”
There is a good likelihood that this will fall apart, for what was signed was merely a first stage understanding. Difficult issues are yet to be resolved. Even if it does not fall apart in the face of these issues, what we are looking at is not genuine unity, but a sinister sort of cooperation.
The deal was signed on Thursday at the headquarters of the General Intelligence Services in Cairo, under the watchful eye of the head of Egyptian intelligence, Khaled Fawzi. (Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, has his reasons for promoting this, which I will return to at another time.)
Saleh al-Arouri (left), and Azzam al-Ahmad, Fatah, led negotiations for their respective groups.
Please note what we are looking at here:
Al-Ahmad, chairman of Fatah’s parliamentary faction and a Fatah Central Committee member, last year called for expansion of “popular resistance” (read terror operations) in order to support those in Israeli prisons.
Arouri in recent years served as head of Hamas’s “West Bank operations” (read terror operations), and was elevated to the position of deputy political leader Hamas politburo chief Ismail Haniyeh just weeks ago.
Israeli authorities believe Arouri planned the 2014 kidnapping and murder Gil-ad Shaar, Eyal Yifrach and Naftali Frankel.
You’d really have to be smoking something to believe that cooperation between these two and all that they represent can in any way remotely enhance stability in the region or bring peace closer.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has said that it is believed that Arouri is still planning terror attacks. After the signing, Arouri said the reconciliation was so that all Palestinian forces can “work together against the Zionist enterprise.” (Emphasis here and below added)
Under the agreement, as of December 1, Fatah/the PA will again be in charge in Gaza. That is, with regard to civil matters: providing electricity, collecting garbage, securing taxes, managing civilian personnel (although there is a catch here), etc. etc.
Many security/military matters have yet to be resolved.
As of November 1, the PA will control all crossings from inside of Gaza – those into Israel, and Rafah, into Egypt. (Egypt will be on the other side of the Rafah crossing, just as our forces are on the other side of those leading into Israel.) The PA Presidential Guard will man the Gaza-Sinai border.
The PA will also deploy some 2,000 – 3,000 police officers in Gaza, but Hamas already maintains a police force many times this size. Are we to imagine, as is being suggested, that they will merge and operate under PA direction?
More significantly, there is the issue of control of the 25,000 members of Hamas’s military wing, Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
Hamas has said quite definitively that they will not relinquish control of the Brigade’s arsenal of weapons. That was a given going into the negotiations. But it seems that—contrary to earlier statements made by Abbas—Fatah does not expect them to relinquish control: instead there are to be joint decisions regarding use of the weapons in the “resistance” arsenal of missiles, rockets, mortars, and drones. And let us not forget the labyrinth of tunnels under Gaza used for hiding and transporting personnel and weapons.
“Fatah Member Abbas Zaki, senior member of Fatah and close associate of Abbas, said that disarming Hamas or any other faction was out of the question for the Palestinian Authority.
“We believe that the weapons are needed and the resistance is a duty, but we are seeking an agreement over the need for a collective national decision as the basis for the use of those weapons.
“…we do not ask Hamas or the Jihad or other factions to disarm. Everyone must know that we have not dropped the decision for the armed struggle.”
Abbas’s hunger to regain control of Gaza after the humiliation of the Hamas coup ten years ago is palpable. It gives him a “victory” in the twilight of his career and allows him to make a stronger international case for a “state.” There were predictions by analysts that he would never allow Hamas to retain its arsenal, and yet essentially this is what his spokesperson, Zaki, is saying (under cover of those “joint decisions”).
However, we should keep in mind that the “collective national decision” procedure has yet to be put in place. And we all know about the devil and the details.
I’ve picked up some reports that indicate that Hamas has agreed to a period of quiet, in Gaza and Judaea and Samaria alike, to allow matters to stabilize. That is, they are not renouncing violence, they are saying to Fatah, we’ll hold off until we have our deal and your faction can help decide when we should attack.
And speaking of Judaea and Samaria, this is another security matter of considerable concern.
According to Michael Herzog of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy:
“For Abbas, this is about Hamas giving up control of Gaza to the Palestinian Authority. The way Hamas sees it, it’s a two-way street. They give up some control of Gaza, but in return the West Bank opens up to them, they are allowed to operate there and this opens the way for Hamas to take over the Palestinian national movement.”
“Hassan Yousef, a senior Hamas official based in Judaea and Samaria, said last week that “the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces in Judaea and Samaria should include activists from all the Palestinian organizations.
“The meaning of the demand…is that Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and other terrorist organizations be integrated into the PA security forces.”
Is Fatah going to agree to this arrangement when it puts their people, and their movement, at risk?
Yaakov Lappin, writing for BESA, makes a related point: Israel is diligently at work on construction of a high-tech fence, complete with electronic sensors that will make it exceedingly difficult for Hamas to construct tunnels from Gaza into Israel. As these tunnels have been a key component of Hamas’s military strategy, this may be motivating Hamas to adopt a new strategy of “orchestrating terror cells remotely [in Judaea and Samaria] as it prepares itself for future war in Gaza.”
Yet another issue of potential contention is with regard to the merging of PA and Hamas workers in Gaza and decisions as to who stays on the payroll. The PA says they cannot accommodate all; Hamas insists otherwise. There were substantial numbers of Fatah workers in Gaza who were kept on the PA payroll even though they had been pushed out by Hamas. The PA now wishes to reinstate them. This issue is supposed to be resolved by February 1, 2018.
Another meeting between the parties is to take place before long, at which point committees will be set up to deal with a number of these issues. All have the potential for deadlock once specifics are discussed.
One of the more critical is the means for establishing that unity government. It is presumed that elections will be held within a year’s time. There is a great deal of fertile ground for dissension here.
The unity is supposed to be based upon a 2011 reconciliation agreement that had been drawn up in Cairo (which calls for those elections). All parties that signed that agreement will be meeting in Cairo in mid-November to discuss it.
The ones who will most clearly gain from this deal are the civilians of Gaza. Abbas will be releasing his stranglehold on Gaza with regard to electricity and a great deal more, and assistance, including increased electric power, will come from Egypt via the Rafah crossing as well.
But those who imagine that this “reconciliation” is a step towards “peace,” because now the Palestinian Arab people have “unity,” are operating with blinders.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, focused solely on humanitarian issues for Gaza residents, managed last week to congratulate Abbas and tell him that the UN “stands ready” to help the PA take up its responsibilities in Gaza,” while never even mentioning concern about Hamas weaponry.
There is no question but that pressure is going to be brought to bear on Israel to receive this new development positively because it will ostensibly make “peace” more possible. This will come from the UN, the EU, Egypt, and, to some extent, the US.
US envoy Jason Greenblatt cautioned that the new unity government would have to accept the Quartet guidelines – something that will never happen. But the US also put out a statement that it “welcomes efforts to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu released a statement that made Israel’s position clear:
“…reconciling with a murderous organization that strives to destroy Israel does not bring peace closer, but rather makes it more distant.
“[Israel] opposes any reconciliation in which the terrorist organization Hamas does not disarm and end its war to destroy Israel.”
What does it mean, asked our prime minister, when Fatah reconciles with a terrorist organization that
“seeks the annihilation of Israel, advocates genocide, launched thousands of rockets at civilians and digs terror tunnels, murders children, represses minorities, bans LGBT, rejects international obligations, refuses to free Israeli civilians it holds hostage, refuses to return the bodies of Israeli soldiers to grieving mothers and fathers, tortures opposition…“
Israel is demanding the return by Hamas of the bodies of IDF soldiers and two Israeli citizens it is holding.
Subsequently, however, a comment came from the Israeli government suggesting more of a wait-and-see attitude.
Thinking is that Netanyahu knows full well what’s flying. But he is reluctant to vociferously cross the US, which has been splendid in other respects (which I will cover in my next posting), or Egypt, when our ties with Sisi have been strengthened of late and the Egyptian president has invested a great deal of prestige in this reconciliation.
There are those who suggest that Israel might be better off with some “moderating” PA influence in Gaza, but I do not buy this. This is predicated on the assumption that the PA would choose a more moderate path, and that, in the end, it will have any influence to speak of with regard to Hamas use of its weapons.
There are other factors to consider as well: If Hamas is no longer bogged down with concerns about electricity and tax-collection, it may actually have more time to devote to improving its arsenal.
And there are other factors as well: If Hamas is no longer bogged down with concerns about electricity and tax-collection, it may actually have more time to devote to improving its arsenal.
Perhaps most disconcerting is the specter of increased Hamas presence in Judaea and Samaria.
Minister Naftali Bennett (Habayit Hayehudi), feeling that Netanyahu’s response was “too tepid,” is pressuring the prime minister to break completely with the PA after the unity deal is finalized.
This is not going to happen.
Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman insists that maintaining contact with the PA is in our best interest.
All other issues will wait until my next posting. I am eager to get this out, now that we are back to “normal.” It’s important that my readers have a clear sense of what we must deal with.
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