NOT POSSIBLE TO CONTINUE
"It is not possible for the current situation in the Gaza Strip to continue, in the shadow of the Israeli siege, ongoing violations, the closure of crossing points, and a general deterioration in living conditions," writes Hani al-Masri in the leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
Despite the fact that the latest Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip ended five months ago, and more than seven months have passed since the [Fateh/Hamas] ‘national accord’ government was formed, the conditions in the Strip are only getting worse. The siege and closure of the crossing points have become worse than before; reconstruction has been postponed till further notice; the problem of the salaries of the employees appointed by Hamas has not been resolved, (which has meant that those employees who abide by the decision to go on strike have continued to stay in their homes until their salaries are paid); and the situation at the crossing points and the borders has generally become more difficult.
In fact, the situation has worsened, threatening a security breakdown as a result of bombings, which, after reaching Fateh's leaders' homes during the ten-year commemoration of Yasser Arafat's death [in October], have now reached the home of the government spokesman and ATM machines. Threats have been issued against ministers and bank managers. And this means that Hamas, in its capacity as the actual governing authority, is responsible for ending the security breakdown, exposing those responsible, and bringing them to account.
Signs are accumulating of an imminent explosion or collapse in the Gaza Strip if the situation remains as is. The question now is less about the possibility or otherwise of an explosion, as much as it is about its timing, shape, goal, and potential beneficiaries.
There are those who reduce the problem to the following: After the failure of its model of authority and after the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt, Hamas needs to complete the path it began by disbanding its Gaza government, ending its unilateral control of the Strip, and enabling the national accord government to assume its tasks, establish its agencies, and bring its employees and means of control to the crossing points and the borders. After all, this is an Arab and international precondition, which unless satisfied, the crossing points will not be reopened and reconstruction cannot really be started.
And there are those who say that Hamas has done what has been asked of it. It has disbanded its government, agreed to a national accord government (which is in reality President 'Abbas's government), and expressed its willingness to accept the PA’s Presidential Guard and police deployment at the crossing points. The ball, therefore, is now in the [Ramallah] government's court.
But Hamas's options have become more limited in light of its numerous crises. With the growing likelihood of a Qatari about turn against it after the recent Qatari/Egyptian reconciliation, the movement finds itself in a dilemma, wondering whether it should go all the way and continue the policy of blaming the national accord government and evading its own responsibility as the actual ruling authority in the Gaza Strip, or opt to hand everything over to the PA, while keeping its armed resistance and Qassam Brigades' weapons intact.
The latter option is unlikely because Hamas realizes that repeating the Hizbollah experiment in Gaza is difficult. For Lebanon's political and sectarian character, its regional and international relations, and its geographic location are all different from Palestine and the besieged Gaza Strip. The Strip suffers from the intense hostility between Egypt and Hamas, and the linkage between lifting the siege and initiating reconstruction on the one hand, and disarming the resistance – or, at least, restricting its ability to hold onto its weapons, let alone develop them, on the other.
There is a third option, whereby Hamas revolts against the status quo by forming a 'national committee' to rule the Strip coupled with a vote of no-confidence in the national accord government and a refusal to form a new government. This 'committee' would then be the actual government in charge of Gaza. But this would not solve any of Hamas's problems. It would not turn a new leaf in its relations with Egypt, and would not open the Rafah crossing and facilitate the flow of reconstruction monies into the Strip.
Hamas has a fourth option, that of using its weapons against Israel. But despite its legendary steadfastness in the recent war and the heroism it displayed, it was unable to achieve its aims and reduce its losses. Therefore, it does not want to pursue this option at present, despite its attractiveness. This would be its last card, especially if Israel were to wage a new aggression.
The fifth option consists of escalating the situation with Egypt at the security and popular levels, as happened in the past when hundreds of thousands of Gazans broke through the Palestinian/Egyptian borders. But such an option would be akin to playing with fire and could be very costly. It is the last thing that Hamas is thinking of, because it is rejected by the people.
Hamas is using the national accord government's disregard for the Gaza Strip and the bitterness this is causing among growing popular and political sectors to register points against President 'Abbas and Fateh and to try to convince other factions, including some that are part of the PLO, to take a firm stance regarding Gaza's marginalization. This has produced a meeting between Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the PFLP, the PDFLP, and the People's Party, one that was boycotted by Fateh. The meeting issued a call, which does not carry much weight, to form a committee to follow-up on the national reconciliation agreement, the reconstruction file, the formation of a leadership framework, and holding new elections.
Hamas is also playing on the internal disagreements within Fateh, especially between Abu Mazin and [former Fatah/PA head of security] Mohammad Dahlan's wings. Some Hamas circles are warning – if only indirectly – against the return of the security breakdown and the rise of extremist jihadi organizations. They are also brandishing the ISIS card, as shown evident from its apparent adoption of certain military operations, even though ISIS has denied its responsibility.
Regardless of Hamas's intentions and various possible courses of action, the Gazans will be left with very few options if the situation remains as is. These include emigration, which is difficult and carries the threat of death on the high seas. There is also the option of joining extremist organizations; and if ISIS has no presence in the Strip, a Palestinian alternative to it may be created.
A number of Palestinian, Arab, and Israeli parties share that Hamas's collapse in Gaza without an appropriate alternative that can rule and impose its control would have serious consequences. For in light of the disagreements from which it suffers in the Strip, and the state of its political program and failure to adopt a project that is capable providing it with a boost, Fateh is not a candidate to replace Hamas's authority. This means that anarchy and extremism are the more likely possibilities.
But despite this, there is a way out based on exerting growing political and popular pressure that reaches a point whereby Hamas finds itself willing to abandon its unilateral control of the Strip, empowering a genuine national unity government to replace it. Such pressure should create a significant distance between the movement and the Muslim Brotherhood, forcing it to respect the Egyptian people's will by recognizing their current president. It should lead the movement to display a readiness to respect the principles of partnership and pluralism, human rights and basic liberties, and the use of what international law and UN resolutions provide by way of rights and privileges.
" In return, Hamas should be accepted as a major partner in the PLO and the PA," concludes Masri.