Ever since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip, in June 2007, we have seen repeated attempts by the Egyptians, Syrians and other elements to facilitate reconciliation between Fatah/the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority and Hamas’ government in Gaza. The attempts failed, despite both sides voicing their desire for such resolution. In his visit to Tunisia two weeks ago, Abbas charged that Hamas was thwarting the talks, even though the Egyptians introduced changes to the draft agreement in line with Hamas’ demands.
Abbas was also right when he said that the Iranians worked hard to torpedo any reconciliation agreement between the Palestinian factions. Hence, all Israeli experts, including intelligence officials, believed that such deal will not be taking shape and signed. This estimate prevailed in Israel in the last few days, even after mass rallies in the Gaza Strip urged the two factions to end their dispute.
Hence, Wednesday’s announcement of a reconciliation agreement, which features a temporary government, “clear objectives” and a Palestinian election date, came as such a great surprise. Israel will have to reassess the situation, among other things because what paved the way to the surprising deal may have been a major Egyptian concession that convinced Hamas to sign the agreement.
Such concession could be in the form of opening the Rafah Crossing to the free movement of goods and people and the lifting of other restrictions placed on Hamas. Another concession could be an Egyptian pledge to endorse Hamas’ demand that Abbas and the PA stop harassing the group’s West Bank infrastructure and grant it some control within the PLO. These are assumptions, as the details of the agreement are still coming in.
End to security cooperation?
What hindered the deal in the past was Hamas’ demand to integrate into the PLO at an almost equal status as Fatah. This would grant Hamas the possibility to thwart any agreement between Israel and Abbas. The unity deal asserts that Hamas will be joining the PLO but its weight within the umbrella organization is not yet clear.
Should Hamas men indeed be integrated, in practice, into the Palestinian Authority’s security arms, it will bring an end to the effective security cooperation between Israel and the PA and also end effective anti-Hamas operations by the PA in Judea and Samaria. Not only Hamas’ terror infrastructure may be rebuilt as a result, but also its political infrastructure. However, this would require much time, and that may very well be the reason why Hamas agreed to postpone PA elections in Gaza, Judea and Samaria by a year, in order to establish itself.
And what is Abbas getting? The Palestinian president has been granted renewed political legitimacy for his rule in the Palestinian street, because formally his term as president ended a while ago. Now, Abbas is the president in every why, until the next elections are held. This also enables him to appear at the United Nations as a legitimate representative of the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and demand recognition of a Palestinian state. This is a significant advantage for Abbas and his people, who are planning to ask for the UN’s recognition of Palestine in September.
What about Shalit?
The unity deal take away an important bargaining chip from Israel, which has consistently told UN members that Abbas only represents the West Bank. Meanwhile, Hamas will be granted many advantages, including international legitimacy, which will enable it to receive international financial aid.
In the past, the Egyptians demanded that a condition for reconciliation and accepting Hamas’ demands would be what was referred to as a “resolution of the Gilad Shalit problem.” It’s unclear how the unity deal addresses this painful issue.
All that remains is to see whether Hamas agrees to the conditions set forth by the Quartet, which demands that the group recognize the State of Israel, refrain from violence, and honor past agreements signed between the PA and Israel.
As the full details of the reconciliation agreement are not yet known, it’s too early to judge its practical implications. In any case, it does not bode well for Israel, because it enables Hamas to utilize more powerful levers in order to thwart a long-term political agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
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