Analysis

How Legit Are the Rumors About a Dahlan-Hamas Deal in Gaza?

It's not yet clear that Fatah's Mohammed Dahlan will receive special powers in the Hamas-controlled Strip, where the ailing economy and health system are a major challenge for anyone

Fatah's Mohammed Dahlan in his office in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, October 18, 2016.
Jack Jabbour / Reuters

Egypt’s decision to allow large quantities of diesel fuel into the Gaza Strip, timed for the Id al-Fitr holiday ending Ramadan, has eased the electricity crisis in the Hamas-ruled enclave for a time. The shipments that came at the initiative of senior Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan, who has been at odds with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, moved ahead with the assistance of the United Arab Emirates and the consent of Hamas.

The shipments apparently also make up for the limited cuts that Israel announced, at the urging of the Palestinian Authority, in the amount of electricity it supplies to Gaza. (Although at this point it’s not clear if the Israeli cuts have actually been carried out.)

In light of this initial success, Dahlan’s associates have leaked information to the Arabic-language media regarding much bigger plans. Dahlan, it is said, is about to be appointed the new prime minister of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, with Hamas’ consent. (It was previously reported that Dahlan would run a committee in charge of Gaza affairs.) Egypt would be supportive, Israel wouldn’t oppose it, and Abbas, who applied massive economic pressure on the Strip in recent months in a bid to get Hamas to submit to the PA’s authority, would probably be disappointed.

But Israeli defense officials were skeptical about the media report. It appears that things haven’t been finalized. Dahlan is due to meet with Hamas officials shortly.

In the interim, even if Gaza’s electricity situation improves, the enclave faces other serious problems. Its economy is in the doldrums, and cuts by the PA in the payment of wages to Gazans have squeezed tens of thousands of people in the enclave. The problems of Gaza’s health system, including the supply of medicines and arrangements letting Gazans come to Israel for treatment, have worsened.

Hamas took over the Strip in 2007 after Abbas’ Fatah party lost Palestinian parliamentary elections a year earlier. The movement of people and goods has been severely limited since — not only by Israel but also by Egypt.

Last week Hamas announced the creation of a buffer zone to prevent the use of smuggling tunnels underneath the Egypt-Gaza border at Rafah. That was an old demand of the Egyptians, who are concerned about the constant movement of Islamic State fighters in Sinai in and out of Gaza.

For years, Israel has claimed that Hamas is providing medical care to wounded Islamic State fighters and that Hamas has been providing weapons training to members of the group’s “Sinai district.” And Hamas hasn’t followed through on establishing a buffer zone even though it has promised one  countless times.

The Gaza initiative of Dahlan, who has deep ties with Egyptian intelligence, indicates that he, like Hamas and Egypt, also sees that Abbas is in a position of weakness. Abbas’ recent meetings with envoys for Donald Trump ended in disappointment. The extent of the U.S. president’s determination to jump-start the peace process remains to be seen, and the PA has been suffering worsening economic problems of its own amid dwindling contributions from the Gulf states.

The fact that trucks carrying diesel fuel have eased Gaza’s situation somewhat doesn’t resolve the crisis and hasn’t calmed tempers between Hamas and the PA. The danger that this tension could spark a new military confrontation between Hamas and Israel will remain this summer as long as the solutions remain temporary and partial.