Hamas ‘ready’ to work with Palestinian authority in Gaza
Sample unprepared analytical commentary of the news
On Sunday, September 17, 2017 Hamas, a Sunni fundamentalist group in control of Gaza, announced that it was ready to dissolve the administration that governs the Gaza Strip. The announcement came on the day when Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, left for New York where he was to attend the United Nations General Assembly and later hold a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump.
Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007, ousting Fatah after a brief civil war. Since the elections in 2006 and the establishment of the first Hamas-led government, the West has adopted the “West Bank first” approach aimed at isolating and stifling Hamas, while assisting the Palestinian National Authority. The humanitarian situation in Gaza is a matter of grave concern due to three wars between Hamas and Israel, the blockade by Israel and Egypt, as well as the pressure from Abbas. So far there have been several futile attempts to reconcile secular Fatah and Islamist Hamas. The situation is further complicated by Israel’s opposition to reconciliation, as Netanyahu insisted back in 2011 that there could either be peace with Israel, or with Hamas.
The announcement may be considered as an overdue attempt to relaunch the dialogue, which can have several implications. First of all, if there is enough political will on both sides, it may indeed pave the way for the establishment of the national unity government and alleviate the sufferings of Gazans. Secondly, this may strengthen the Palestinian position at the negotiating table with Israel, which continues its illegal settlement activity on the occupied territories. Such consolidation is of utmost importance since the U.S., Israel’s principal ally, insists that Palestinian statehood can only be achieved through bilateral negotiations with Israel, rather than Palestinians acting unilaterally through international fora, such as the UN. On the other hand, domestically, the move to restore unity is likely to result in a parliamentary election, which Hamas may well win in both Gaza and the West Bank. Hamas will aim to benefit politically from reconciliation, bidding for posts in the Palestinian government. This may stymie any attempts at relaunching the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations as neither the West nor Israel are prepared to negotiate with Hamas. Anyway, the military movement is likely to retain its control over the security of Gaza. The announcement also has implications for Russia, a member of the Middle East Quartet, which has an important role to play as a mediator. Russia has not rejected negotiations with Hamas, and it considers the intra-Palestinian reconciliation of utmost importance for resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. In fact, Moscow welcomed the announcement; a few days later Hamas sent a high-level delegation to the Russian capital.Earlier this year, Russia hosted negotiations among various Palestinian representatives. If the reconciliation process begins, Russia’s role in regional affairs is likely to increase.
The announcement has to be accepted with cautious optimism only, since previous attempts at reconciling Fatah and Hamas have failed. Nevertheless, it highlights Egypt’s role as a regional mediator, as the announcement is the result of Egyptian shuttle diplomacy. The Arab-Israeli conflict has been overshadowed by the events of the Arab Spring, leading to civil wars in Libya, Syria, Yemen and the fight against the Islamic State, so any steps taken by the parties may be considered an attempt to move the issue up the global agenda, especially given Trump’s visit to the Middle East in spring. What is more, according to opinion polls, Abbas is unpopular among Palestinians and has no clear successor, which may further complicate or even stall the reconciliation process. Finally, some may see it as the success of the West determined to force Hamas to relinquish control of Gaza, while there are others who dismiss the move as a political manoeuvre.
To conclude, the announcement may be the first step towards reconciliation and thus lead to some initial measures to revive the Middle East peace process, but the success of the initiative largely depends on the non-violent outcome of the general election and the will of all the parties concerned to reach a compromise. Otherwise, the position of the Palestinians will be further undermined, with the viability of the two-state solution likely to be increasingly questioned in some quarters.
Approximate time: 4 min.