Last week Ahmed Assaf, spokesman of Fatah in the West Bank, issued a harsh statement against Hamas accusing it of mounting a “new insurrection” against the Palestinian Authority, undercutting Hamas-Fatah reconciliation, and preventing the Palestinian unity government headed by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah from extending its sovereignty to the Gaza Strip.
The statement was issued after Hamas decided to close the governor’s house in the central refugee-camp area of Gaza and evict Governor Abdullah Abu Samhadna. Samhadna is a Fatah member and was appointed to the post by the Palestinian Authority.
This move indicates a new stage in the deterioration of Hamas-Fatah relations in recent weeks. The process has been marked by the planting of explosive devices at the houses of 10 senior Fatah officials in Gaza, the cancellation of the memorial rally in Gaza for the tenth anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death, and Hamas’ efforts to convene the Palestinian Legislative Council for a no-confidence vote in the Palestinian national unity government.
This government was established with the mutual consent of Hamas and Fatah.
It is now openly claimed in Fatah, however, that the understandings Hamas reached with Fatah were only aimed at serving Hamas’ interests and were a tactical move to extricate Hamas from its regional, political, and financial crisis.
In actuality, Hamas has continued to exercise its iron political and security control of Gaza and to deny the Palestinian Authority a foothold there.
Hamas is not allowing Palestinian bureaucrats to enter Gaza for work on the Palestinian side of the crossings. Meanwhile it is openly proclaiming that it has gone back to repairing tunnels and manufacturing rockets.
The ongoing split between the West Bank and Gaza, and between Fatah and Hamas, will undoubtedly hinder the process of Gaza’s recovery after Operation Protective Edge. It was on the basis of the Palestinian unity government headed by Rami Hamdallah that the recent donor conference in Cairo pledged to provide $5.4 billion for Gaza’s rehabilitation.
The tension between Fatah and Hamas and between Hamas and Egypt has prevented resumption of the Cairo talks between an Israeli delegation and a single, unified Palestinian delegation under Egyptian patronage.
Indeed, the relations between Hamas and Egypt have deteriorated severely in the wake of the terror attack in northern Sinai two weeks ago that killed 33 Egyptian soldiers.
It was the Sinai-based group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, which recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, which officially claimed responsibility for the attack. Egypt, however, officially blames Gaza-based Hamas for active involvement in the attack and for logistical assistance that was conveyed to Sinai through cross-border tunnels.
That is why Egyptian President Al-Sisi ordered the creation of a broad buffer zone on the Egyptian side of the Rafah area. As part of a large-scale operation the Egyptian army has already destroyed about 700 Palestinian homes to make way for the buffer, according to Egyptian media. The operation makes it much harder for Hamas to smuggle weapons into Gaza from Sinai.
Meanwhile, though, Hamas has been stepping up its self-manufacture of rockets. Since the end of the Protective Edge campaign, it has also conducted several experiments involving the firing of rockets toward the sea, with an eye to increasing the range of the rockets.
The Palestinian Authority, however, believes Hamas now lacks the military capacity to resume the war against Israel, and that instead Hamas is interested in a long-term arrangement with Israel that will perpetuate its control of Gaza.
At the same time, Hamas has been intensifying its incitement of the residents of the Jerusalem and the West Bank. The aim is to stoke a “Third Intifada” against Israel that would also serve Hamas’ goal of undermining the status and stability of the Palestinian Authority.
Thus, declarations by senior Hamas officials that the movement has adopted reconciliation with Fatah as a strategy appear to be untrue. Instead, Hamas seeks to continue its absolute control of Gaza.
The strategic objective is to safeguard Gaza as a major asset for the Muslim Brotherhood which has succeeded to make it an independent stronghold acting as an “Islamic emirate” and as a stage toward the creation of the great “Islamic caliphate.”