Waiting Game in Gaza as Hamas-Fatah Agreement Takes Shape

Hamas has bowed to pressure from Egypt to allow PA forces into the Gaza Strip, but talks with Israel are going slowly.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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A homeless boy waits in line with his mother to receive aid in the Gaza Strip, September 14, 2014.
A homeless boy waits in line with his mother to receive aid in the Gaza Strip, September 14, 2014.Credit: AFP
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The agreement between Fatah and Hamas – which allows a government of Palestinian Authority technocrats to assume responsibility for the Gaza Strip and administration of the Rafah crossing – is supposed to make the rehabilitation of the Strip easier after this summer’s war there.

Based on past experience, when Fatah and Hamas treated signed agreements as merely recommendations, it is hard to predict whether the new accord will be honored. However, at least one positive outcome can be expected: the internal Palestinian agreement will extend discussions on an indirect agreement between Israel and Hamas. In so doing, it places the danger of a new eruption in the Strip farther away.

Reports of the agreement appeared first in the Egyptian media, not Palestinian, and details were spare. According to reports, the agreement brings back the government of technocrats – under the authority of PA President Mahmoud Abbas – that was established as part of the reconciliation agreement between Fatah and Hamas last spring. That never took effect because of the disagreements that broke out between the parties, and later because of the military conflict with Israel.

The new government is ostensibly to replace the Hamas government in Gaza and oversee the PA’s security apparatus, whose presence Egypt demands at border crossings in the Strip as a condition for easing movement at the crossings.

The announcement reflects Hamas’ accession to the Egyptian dictate. But its implementation is still unclear and involves many difficulties. For example, will Hamas see the PA security organizations as merely a cover needed for contacts with the hostile Egyptian government? Or will they have a real presence at the crossings and renewed influence in the Strip, seven years after Hamas forced Fatah out of Gaza? That is an issue the parties have yet to clarify between themselves. But meanwhile, it seems the announcement reduces the immediate threat of renewed violence between Hamas and Israel.

The brief meeting between Israel and the Palestinian factions in Cairo last week dealt with setting an agenda for continued talks. Now it seems that significant talks will only be renewed after the annual meeting of donor states to the Palestinians – that is, after the middle of next month. Until then, Hamas has an interest in continuing to hold its fire because a future road map for rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip is being sketched. If no localized incidents disrupt this, it may be presumed that the temporary cease-fire will hold at least until talks start again on a detailed and longer-term cease-fire, in about another two and a half weeks.

Although Hamas spokesmen are conveying the opposite in their statements, it can be gauged that the organization prefers breathing space for the civilian population in the Strip at the moment, instead of facing off again against the Israel Defense Forces. Hamas is also presently taking steps to rein in possible shooting by other Palestinian factions.

The problems will start when it becomes clear how long the delay will be in efforts to repair all the devastation in Gaza. Long and exhausting negotiations without clear results in the battle to ease the strategic distress of the Gaza Strip – particularly the blockade of the Strip by Egypt, and even more so by Israel – will eventually increase the risk of renewed hostilities.

Although Israel is showing no sign at this point of a more flexible policy toward the Palestinians (the statement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about a diplomatic horizon at the end of the war has long been forgotten), it has taken at least a few steps to ease things on the ground.

On the instructions of Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, an arrangement has been made with the United Nations regarding monitoring of merchandise entering the Strip, and the easing of other restrictions at the crossings.

Israel has already allowed UNRWA and additional international aid groups to bring in food, generators and tents to ensure minimal levels of sustenance for hundreds of thousands of new refugees, whose homes were demolished or damaged in attacks by the Israel Defense Forces. The number of trucks moving daily through the Kerem Shalom crossing into Gaza now stands at about 350, double the number before the war.

During the fighting in Gaza, UNRWA received $180 million in donations to help repair damage. However, even a month after the end of hostilities, the renovation of damaged houses and construction of new homes to replace those completely destroyed has not begun.

Much more money will be required for comprehensive rehabilitation. The various estimates – coming from the PA and Hamas – cite figures ranging from $4 billion to $6 billion. This money has not yet been raised. At a time when the world’s attention is moving back and forth from Syria to Iraq because of the international coalition against Islamic State, the raising of the funds could turn out to be particularly difficult, despite promises made by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other countries.

A mobile home being delivered to families in Khan Yunis, September 15, 2014.Credit: AFP

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