On October 15, negotiators from Hamas, the de facto ruling party in Gaza, agreed to relinquish political control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank. The move, which is being hailed as a significant stride forward in the quest for peace, comes after almost ten years of political division due to Hamas’ ousting of all Fatah officials in 2007. With a newfound unity among the Palestinian people, the prospect of an end to the seemingly eternal Israel-Palestine conflict is promising.
However, as with my take on Saudi Arabia allowing women to drive, I’m not celebrating.
When I heard about the possibility of a Palestinian reconciliation attempt, I was skeptical but optimistic. After all, previous attempts for Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to reconcile have failed. Because the PA recognizes the 1993 Oslo Accords, which stipulates that the Palestinians must concede the legitimacy of Israel, Hamas has rejected working with the Palestinian Authority for the past ten years. If Hamas formed an official government with the PA, it, too, would have to recognize the Oslo Accords and Israel, a deal-breaker for the Gazan regime.
That said, the possibility of creating a unified Palestinian government with one distinct voice is a positive step for the vision of a two-state solution. Israel will never accept a final status agreement that does not include the Palestinian Authority controlling Gaza, and the PA would never accept a final status agreement without control of all the Palestinian territories. Therefore, an agreement to join Gaza and the West Bank is a productive component to the complex peace process.
Moreover, the agreement is objectively beneficial for Israelis and Palestinians because it removes Hamas’ power and influence. Hamas is notorious for human rights violations, from prosecuting homosexuals to holding mock public executions. From a Palestinian perspective, a weaker Hamas means more freedom, more democracy, and more rights. From an Israeli perspective, greater PA control of Gaza means increased policing, which might help combat terror attacks.
From a distance, a reconciliation agreement sounds ideal. Unfortunately, its nuances threaten to put Israel’s defense and the entire peace process in jeopardy.
To date, Israel has vehemently opposed the reconciliation attempt, but also pledged not to interfere. In fact, one could say that they have been quietly supporting the attempt. Despite public statements condemning the talks, Israel allowed PA negotiators to cross Israel and enter Egypt to engage in negotiations. However, after details of the deal were released, Israel was less than enthused.
Before the talks, Mahmoud Abbas, the President of the Palestinian Authority, said that under any reconciliation agreement, Hamas, which is recognized as a terrorist organization by Israel, the European Union, and the United States, would have to disband its military wing and hand all weapons in to the PA. Surely, Israel was pleased by this declaration. Yet, when the agreement was signed, nothing in the agreement stipulated the dismantling of Hamas’ military wing. In fact, a senior Hamas official has stated that Hamas’ military wing will not be affected by the deal at all.
Any enduring presence of a Hamas military is indisputably dangerous for both Israel and the Palestinian people. Israel will never, and should never, attempt to make peace with any terrorist organization so long as it retains the capability to attack Israel after a deal is reached. Beyond the physical considerations, the absence of a condition in the agreement requiring the disassembly of Hamas’ military will not alter its status as a terrorist organization; as such, the Palestinian Authority’s new power will be implicated in their collaboration with recognized terrorists, which complicates the PA’s position to make peace with Israel.
After the reconciliation agreement was signed, Israel released its list of conditions for negotiations with the new Palestinian government, notably the recognition of Israel, disarmament, and the cutting of ties with Iran. Instead of meeting such stipulations and coming to the table for negotiations, Hamas’ first action was to send an envoy to Iran to update their ally on the deal, disregarding Israel’s requests for negotiation. If the Palestinians were committed to bringing peace to the region, they would not scoff at reasonable terms to allow for broader negotiation, but would embrace them. Given that Israel has Hezbollah on its northern border and Syria on its northeastern border, it is entirely rational to want to avoid a third Iran proxy on its western border as well.
Israel’s terms are not ridiculous—unfortunately, the Palestinian reaction to the agreement was.
Besides the practical implications of the agreement, it is important to consider that a side effect of the deal is the glorification of the Palestinian Authority. Since Hamas is a radical terrorist organization, we tend to view any alternative to its authority as being substantially better, which is true, but only to an extent. Make no mistake; Fatah and the PA are by no means moderate. The PA, which is supposed to be a democratic entity, has not held legislative elections since 2006. Additionally, the PA is known for naming schools after and paying stipends to the families of convicted terrorists. It is great news that Hamas’ role will be decreased, but we shouldn’t be thrilled with its replacement—a semi-official governmental authority with a soft spot for an infamous terrorist organization.
There is nobody to blame more than President Abbas. Hamas initiated the talks because it was desperate for assistance after experiencing financial troubles in Qatar, Hamas’ main source of funding. In a unique position with much leverage, Abbas let Hamas keep its military and its ties with Iran. The Palestinian Authority’s president has also been silent on Iran and Hamas’ militaries, and there have been no condemnations of statements like that of Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, who said on Thursday, “Over is the time Hamas spent discussing recognizing Israel. Now Hamas will discuss when we will wipe out Israel.”
Until President Abbas takes action to ensure that Hamas will cooperate with the Palestinian Authority and Israel, the peace process will unfortunately remain stagnant.