Analysis

Fatah, Hamas Are at an Impasse

Neither group is able to effectively pressure Israel, and the reconciliation between the factions is stalling, say sources in Ramallah and Gaza

Yahya Sinwar leader of the Islamist Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, speaks with the heads of families in Gaza City to discuss recent reconciliation developments, December 26, 2017.
MAHMUD HAMS/AFP

Hamas sent Israel a message, warning it against trying to foil a reconciliation between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, and against continuing its siege of the Gaza Strip.

According to the London-based newspaper Al-Hayat, the message was sent to Israel via an international player. The message included warnings about the volatile situation in Gaza due to the humanitarian crisis there and the stalling reconciliation process, as well as Israel’s attacks on Hamas targets in Gaza in retaliation for rocket fire into Israel, even when Hamas did not launch the rockets.

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The newspaper report also notes that Israel sent its own messages to Hamas leaders in Gaza.

A Hamas source in Gaza told Haaretz that the organization recognizes that the diplomatic situation has stalled, that the reconciliation is limping along and that the Egyptian delegation that was supposed to monitor its progress left the Gaza Strip several weeks ago and has not returned. Residents are complaining that even though nearly three months have elapsed since the reconciliation was festively declared, there are no visible changes, and the Rafah border crossing to Egypt is still mostly closed, as it has been for the past decade. The economy is deteriorating, and there have been warnings in recent days that the health system is facing imminent collapse.

The source emphasized that Hamas is not interested in a military escalation and repeating what happened before the last outbreak of hostilities in the summer of 2014, but that it cannot resign itself to the current situation.

“Hamas has made a strategic decision not to take over complete civic control and the day-to-day operations of Gaza, even regarding policing. Nonetheless, the organization wants to use the security situation to improve its position within the Palestinian arena. Thus, Hamas is interested in maintaining protests along the Gaza border fence and inside the West Bank, but not in firing rockets in a way that could lead to head-on confrontation with Israel,” said the source.

The Palestinian Authority in Ramallah also recognizes Hamas’ dilemma, and is still pushing to take full responsibility for the Gaza Strip via its government offices there. It understands Hamas’ distress amid the diplomatic deadlock and the lack of progress toward giving the Gazan public something to hope for.

Officials in Ramallah and Gaza say Fatah and Hamas have reached an impasse. Hamas’ strategy of armed struggle against Israel cannot bring a diplomatic achievement to present to the Palestinian people. The Palestinian Authority has no plan to that could pressure Israel to change the situation, despite international sympathy for the Palestinian cause. Currently, the PA poses no challenge to Israel. Rather, a recent decision by the Likud Party to annex the West Bank, and Tuesday’s passage of the Jerusalem bill, show that both Palestinian factions have been unable to formulate a strategy for going forward, similar to their situation in October 1970 after the clashes with the Jordanian army and the 1982 departure of Palestinian forces from Lebanon.

The convening of the Palestinian central council on January 14 may provide an opportunity for formulating and presenting a strategy, assuming all factions attend the meeting. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected a proposal to hold the meeting in an Arab capital such as Beirut, which would have ensured appropriate representation of all factions, sources told Haaretz. Instead, Abbas is insisting on holding the meeting in Ramallah, where representatives of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others cannot attend. The open question is whether these groups will have representatives in the West Bank acting on their behalf, or if they can participate on closed-circuit TV from Gaza.