Hamas is surrounded by several threats:
Firstly, the threat posed by the occupation and the blockade, allowing the possibility of Israeli military aggression to persist – although all the relevant parties are averse to it – unless an agreement to establish calm that can be developed into a truce lasting several years is reached.
Secondly, the threat posed by the Palestinian Authority (PA), which wants a reconciliation with Hamas on the PA’s own terms that would involve empowering the Hamdallah government in Gaza. That government supports president Abbas, has been reshuffled more than once without consensus, has imposed sanctions on the Gaza Strip and threatens even deeper sanctions if Hamas concludes a separate truce with Israel.
Thirdly, the threat posed by Egypt, which on the one hand wants Hamas to survive because it views it as the power most capable of guaranteeing security in the Gaza Strip and preventing it from turning into a thorn in Egypt’s side. On the other hand, Egypt also wants the PA to return to Gaza, so that Hamas does not retain unchecked control of Gaza, because Hamas was an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood (the Egyptian regime’s foe) and the Brotherhood continues to have intellectual political influence in the Gaza Strips. Moreover, Egypt does not want its position to stray too far from that of Washington and Israel.
However, to avoid having Gaza fall into its lap, Egypt is refusing to set up projects that would serve the Gaza Strip, including an airport and a sea port, on Egyptian territory. On the other hand, Egypt does not want the Gaza strip to find ways of transcending its dependence on [Samira Ka1] Egypt. It is therefore rejecting the idea of a maritime corridor to Cyprus and the use of an airport in Eilat, because that would consecrate Gaza’s separation from the West Bank, dealing a fatal blow to the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state, which Egypt considers necessary for preserving its own national security.
To date, and possibly for the foreseeable future, Egypt is linking a Palestinian reconciliation with an agreement for calm with Israel. In that regard, it would be a mistake to rely on US and Israeli pressure on Egypt to separate the two, even if that were to succeed, because that would be relying on enemies. Egypt actually considers reconciliation as a prelude for an agreement for calm, and it believes that failure to achieve reconciliation will lead at best to “calm in exchange for calm”.
As for Hamas, it prefers to achieve national unity on the basis of a partnership that will keep it in control of the Gaza Strip, as part of a process to control it and to control the PLO. That is impossible at present, because president Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah movement reject such a unity. They want unity based on a return of Gaza to the control of the legitimate authority that they control, thus rendering Hamas a minority that is subject to the leadership that they control.
Hamas thought that after the Return marches and the launch of burning kites, it would be able to conclude a truce of its own that would exclude the PA and that its terms would be much more advantageous than the 2014 agreement on the basis of:
Firstly: Changing an incomplete Israeli position, which has been expressed as a willingness to conclude a truce without disarming Hamas or demanding its recognition of Israel, Israeli agreement to a maritime corridor to Cyprus, and its suggestion that the Eilat airport can be used, despite Hamas’ rejection of the idea of an airport in Eilat.
Secondly: The anger of US president Donald Trump’s administration towards president Abbas over his position on the “Trump Deal.” That anger was manifested though a US position expressing preference for a return of the PA to Gaza, but adding that the vacuum would be filled by others if the PA does not wish to return there in accordance with what is on offer.
Thirdly: Israel’s aversion to a war that would be costly, distract it from any military developments on its northern border and expose it to international criticism. Another reason Israel wants to avoid launching war on Gaza is that its aftermath would be unclear. There is no alternative to Hamas’s rule over Gaza, except for chaos. Israel does not want to occupy it and the PA will not be able to take charge of it. Furthermore, Israel does not want to contribute to creating a situation that will help to end the internal Palestinian division, because that division is very advantageous to Israel.
Fourthly, Qatari and international pledges of aid, or the provision of financial support and of the establishment of projects that would provide a humanitarian solution to the worsening crisis in living conditions, which threaten a collapse and internal explosion in the Gaza Strip.
Hamas must understand that international oversight of any new arrangements that it hopes will replace Israeli control – such as a maritime corridor to Cyprus – would be difficult, if not impossible. It is unclear if the UN is authorised and capable of providing such oversight, particularly given PA and Egyptian rejection. Even if such oversight were to materialise, it would not be an alternative to Israeli control over all the goods and people entering or leaving the Gaza Strip. In other words, the current situation would not change. The dilemma that both sides of the Palestinian divide do not want to comprehend is that Washington and Tel Aviv are playing them off against each other: On one hand, they are encouraging the PA to return to Gaza, because its return without a genuine reunification will mean that the Palestinians are held responsible for the Gaza Strip, which is a recipe for future inter-Palestinian conflict.
On the other hand, they are selling Hamas the illusion that they have accepted that its rule should continue, that it can keep its arms and that they do not insist that it recognise Israel.
Israel’s true position will become clear once Hamas has fallen into the trap. At that point, Hamas will have fallen under the mercy of Israel and the US. Those who have rejected president Abbas and Fatah as partners despite all their moderateness because they have not accepted the Trump deal will not accept Hamas, which is allied to Iran and Hizbollah, and which demands the liberation of Palestine through armed resistance.
Let us assume for argument’s sake that a truce that includes Hamas without the PA’s participation is achieved and the PA carries out its threat of halting all dealings with Gaza. That would spell a catastrophe and a final split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Hamas would depend on Israel and the US to ensure aid, projects and the allocation of public funds. This would not be done out of charity, and the price for it would be very high.
President Abbas and Fatah must stop waiting for Hamas to collapse and surrender, because that entails a gamble, facilitates separating the West Bank from Gaza and exposes our people in the Gaza Strip to a humanitarian tragedy that neither history, nor our people will forgive
Hamas must understand that although it has enough strength to make Israel think twice before launching a new massive military attack, and to think many times before reoccupying Gaza, it must not misread the balance of power. The environment surrounding Hamas, including the situation in Gaza and the Palestinian, Arab and international situation are not in its favour. Therefore, it will be unable to duplicate in Gaza what Hizbollah’s experience has been in southern Lebanon.
Gaza’s situation is very different to the situation in Lebanon. Gaza is under a very tight siege, the Palestinian scene is dominated by a devastating disunity and Hamas does not have the regional political, geographic and strategic depth spanning Syria, Iraq and Iran that Hizbollah has. Moreover, Israel would not allow Hamas to attain this, because it would spell the beginning of the end for Israel and would be to the advantage of the Palestinians.
The way out of the current impasse is to focus on rebuilding Gaza airport; the construction of a sea port there; instituting urgent facilitation measures and aid projects until the port is built; understanding that the Trump deal, Israel’s nationality law and Israeli plans and goals target the Palestine cause, land and people and anyone who opposes liquidating the Palestine cause in all of its aspects. This requires giving priority to achieving genuine unity based on common denominators, preservation of pluralism and regulating the arms of resistance factions to ensure full participation by the people and factions. This will foil the success of the plan to separate the West Bank and Gaza Israeli efforts to focus on continuing to Judaize and colonise the West Bank. Achieving such genuine Palestinian unity would mean that the restoration of Gaza to the control of the PA would mark the beginning of salvation, rather than a new phase of unfruitful internal conflict.