The tug-of-war between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has destroyed the agreement they reached prior to the elections for the PA chairmanship.
That agreement was based on Hamas' policy that the election of a new PA chairman was needed to determine their opponent in coming political campaigns, during both the disengagement and during PA parliamentary elections in six months' time. Abu Mazen therefore benefited from "positive abstention" from Hamas supporters during his recent election.
Hamas' plans are based of the assumption that Abu Mazen will avoid violent confrontation with them and the other opposition groups in the PA. Therefore, they feel free to operate against Israeli targets, to gain political points in the Palestinian street. Their goal is to position disengagement as a clear victory for Hamas and its strategy of armed struggle.
To achieve this, Hamas needs to eliminate Abu Mazen's ability to negotiate the conditions of the disengagement with Israel. In implementing this policy, Hamas depends on knee-jerk responses from the IDF and the cabinet. Hamas hopes that Israel's cutting off communication with Abu Mazen, IDF operations in the Strip, continued Qassam and mortar attacks and, no less important, Israel placing responsibility for attacks at Abu Mazen's doorstep, will let Hamas dictate conditions to its liking.
However, Hamas also faces a dilemma. Arafat maneuvered between PA factions and Hamas, but Abu Mazen is less predictable. He might even boycott Hamas entirely. Even if this does not lead to violence between the factions, it could deny Hamas the ability to use terrorist attacks as political blackmail.
Abu Mazen hints at such an option in his frequent pronouncements against terror attacks. Hamas responds with hints of its own that it is ready to reach a deal.
By hinting at conditions for talks, such as the freeing of prisoners, Hamas believes it can prevent a cutting of ties with the PA.
The position of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad leadership outside the Gaza Strip in this dispute is entirely unclear, as is their ability to dictate moves in the the Strip. Publicly, they are committed to a continuation of the armed struggle, but they must also consider the position of Syria, which has come under fire from the U.S. and Europe for hosting their organizations.
Continued Hamas attacks in Gaza attest to a struggle between the domestic and foreign branches of the organization, as was also the case within the PLO in the past.
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