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24
Oct
2017

Hamas Sees Reconciliation with Fatah as Step toward Destroying Israel


It is worth paying close attention to the statements in recent days by Yahye Sinwar, leader of Hamas in Gaza, and of Salah al-Aruri, deputy chairman of Hamas’ Political Bureau. They were made at the meeting of the movement’s leadership with its young generation in Gaza, and during the meetings of a Hamas delegation with senior Iranian officials in Tehran. The two leaders said the same things about the movement’s attitude toward Israel and toward the American-Israeli demand that Hamas recognize Israel and renounce terror.

Sinwar and al-Aruri made clear, each on his own, that the goal of the reconciliation agreement with Fatah is not to take a softer line toward Israel on the path to some sort of diplomatic settlement but, rather, to pave the way for Hamas to “destroy the Zionist entity.”

Their words contradict the way in which Egypt has been portraying the reconciliation agreement to the Trump administration. According to the Egyptian plan, the end of the Palestinian rift will allow the emergence of a single Palestinian position comprising all the Palestinian factions on a diplomatic agreement with Israel. However, the Hamas leadership, now that it has been taken over by the movement’s military wing, sees the reconciliation process as an opportunity to synchronize with Iran and gain strength for the ongoing anti-Israeli struggle. It has no intention to moderate its positions and ideology.

Thus, the Hamas delegation, headed by al-Aruri, that went to Iran was flaunting defiance of the Trump administration’s policy on Iran and of Israel’s demand that Hamas cut ties with the mullahs as part of the intra-Palestinian reconciliation.

At present, Hamas is particularly concerned to maintain good relations with two states. The first is Egypt, so that it will considerably ease the blockade on Gaza and allow the permanent opening of the Rafiah crossing. The second is Iran, so that it will give Hamas money and weapons and boost its economic and military power.

The unprecedented diplomatic pragmatism and flexibility shown by the new Hamas leadership regarding Egypt, as well as the Palestinian Authority’s preconditions for a reconciliation, have surprised the Arab world.

Hamas, however, has not changed. It is acting out of its interests, which are now emerging more clearly.

According to sources in Hamas, within its internal institutions the leadership has long been discussing ways to extricate the movement from the heavy yoke of running Gaza and bearing responsibility for its difficult humanitarian situation, which could at any moment erupt in large-scale disturbances similar to the “Arab Spring” upheavals. 

In agreeing to make what it sees as major concessions on the reconciliation process with the PA, Hamas’ aim is to transfer as rapidly as possible its responsibility for the fate of Gaza’s two million Palestinians to the Palestinian government headed by Rami Hamdallah.

From a diplomatic and media standpoint, Hamas has behaved cleverly, succeeding to create the impression among the residents of the territories that it has acceded to the PA’s conditions for reaching a national reconciliation. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has fallen into Hamas’ trap. His insistence on continuing the sanctions against Gaza well serves the purposes of Hamas, which is depicting him as the one who wants to foil the reconciliation process.   

As part of the reconciliation agreement with Fatah, Hamas has retained its weapons and its military wing, Izaddin al-Qassam, and has succeeded, with Egyptian consent, to remove the issue from the talks.

Keeping its weapons means Hamas remains effectively in control of Gaza and maintains it deterrence toward Israel without bearing official responsibility for the residents of the Strip; responsibility for their fate has been transferred to the PA.

The reconciliation agreement with Fatah also enables Hamas to ratchet up its influence in the West Bank.

It will now be able to engage in open political activity there, and the PA will have to free all the Hamas detainees from their prisons, stop arresting Hamas operatives, and enable the movement to hold rallies, conferences, and demonstrations.

The transition from underground activity to open political activity will increase Hamas’ freedom of action and help it boost its influence over the West Bank population, with an eye to parliamentary and presidential elections.

The reconciliation agreement and the transfer of responsibility in Gaza to the Palestinian government are supposed to enable the lifting of the blockade on Gaza. Israel will have trouble justifying continued restrictions on Gaza once it has passed to PA control.

The freeing of Hamas from the burden of running Gaza and from responsibility for the fate of its residents will enable it to funnel all its financial resources into a military buildup, while burnishing its image as a key Palestinian opposition faction that is leading the armed struggle against Israel.

That, in turn, will enable Hamas to enhance its ties with Iran and coordinate with it in counteracting the diplomatic plan pursued by President Trump (the “deal of the century”), who so far refuses to accept the principle of a “two-state solution.”

With civilian rule of Gaza moving from Hamas to the PA, Hamas, at the same time, is establishing a new foothold in Lebanon. The reconciliation agreement facilitates its return to the “axis of evil,” following its military wing’s temporary rift with Iran and Syria, which stemmed from the policy of previous Political Bureau Chairman Khaled Mashal. 

According to Hamas and Iranian sources, visits by Hamas delegations to Tehran will now increase as strategic cooperation between Hamas and Iran develops.

About Yoni Ben Menachem

Yoni Ben Menachem, a veteran Arab affairs and diplomatic commentator for Israel Radio and Television, is a senior Middle East analyst for the Jerusalem Center. He served as Director General and Chief Editor of the Israel Broadcasting Authority.

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