On 10 August, Anadolu news agency quoted a source from the Ezzedine Al-Qassam Brigades saying that the military wing of Hamas had presented a proposal to the political leadership of the Islamic Resistance Movement to create a political security vacuum in Gaza in order for the Brigades and the other resistance groups to take security responsibility in the field. Meanwhile, the civil police will be tasked with maintaining general security and the municipalities and local institutions will provide other civil services to citizens. This proposal was a response to the harsh punitive measures taken recently by President Mahmoud Abbas, the regional and international disappointment and their indifference towards Gaza and its people, and the disastrous situation in the territory.
This matter sends a lot of signals. Despite the initial tentative denials from some of Hamas's political leaders, the head of the movement in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, confirmed it during his meeting with journalist on 14 August. Of course, I am taking into consideration the credibility of the official Turkish news agency and the difficulty of it fabricating such news, specifically with regards to the Qassam Brigades.
This proposal was made to test the waters and possible reactions. Revealing the details was done deliberately and also to see the reaction of various parties. If the Qassam Brigades were really serious, at least at this stage, they would have implemented the proposal immediately, as it always does in matters in defence of national and partisan interests.
Reading between the lines, it seems that the Brigades are suggesting that a state of chaos is created in Gaza; one that is controllable to some degree. However, the essence of creating such chaos does not mean that it will not at some stage become uncontrollable, and that they can prevent it negatively affecting their opponents or the three parties involved in the siege on Gaza —Israel, the PA and Egypt — albeit in varying degrees.
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At this stage, though, the proposal seems to be telling President Mahmoud Abbas that his harsh punitive measures against Gaza, which have led to the further deterioration of an already catastrophic situation, may affect the entire scenario negatively. I do not think that the Qassam Brigades or Hamas are relying on Abbas himself to change his position, since he seems indifferent and unaffected, and does not mind hurting Fatah members or even all of the people of Gaza through collective punishment, in order to pressure Hamas to accept his political conditions. Such conditions are closer to surrender than reconciliation, or even the spirit of reconciliation, its understandings and its documents.
Hence, the main reliance is on Israel and the regional and international parties supporting the PA, which are capable of influencing and pressuring Ramallah to back down from its punitive measures, especially regarding the electricity supply and salary cuts. This may improve the situation slightly and make it more bearable, but it will not take things back to normal or make Gaza an inhabitable place according to UN benchmarks.
Equally important and significant is the message portrayed to the other two parties involved in the siege, Israel and Egypt. The message to Israel is security-economic-social, meaning that the security vacuum or state of chaos will have a negative impact on the Zionist state first, in the security sense, and that neither the Qassam Brigades nor any other group will stick to the truce. The situation may deteriorate and explode in the summer, shorty before the academic year starts, and will disrupt the occupation state's strategic project to build a wall around Gaza, both above- and underground.
For this reason, Israel must not go along with President Abbas's punitive measures, especially regarding the electricity supply. This is actually something that Tel Aviv was already considering; a number of Arab and regional parties have been asked to bear the cost of the electricity in order for it to go back to the level before Abbas's cuts; that is, to 6 hours per day.
Of course this message from the Brigades also suggests the need to think about easing the siege in its various economic and social manifestations, including the movement of people and goods, even if it's limited to Israel's racist "IV" theory which aims to keep Gaza alive, but not to allow it to recover or live normally.
Another equally important message is the message to Egypt. Hamas and the Qassam Brigades will not be in a position that will allow them to engage in any obligations or understandings with Israel or Egypt, meaning that the measures taken recently on the Egyptian-Palestinian border will be threatened. This will affect Egypt negatively in terms of security and may lead to a direct human surge across the border, as happened around ten years ago.
In the Egyptian context, it seems that the Qassam proposal is an expression of the Brigades' impatience and anger over the stalling and delay in the implementation of the bilateral understandings between Egypt and Hamas. Included in this would be the understandings with the former Fatah leader Muhammed Dahlan, under Egyptian auspices, to ease the siege, open the Rafah crossing more often, allow the entry of more basic necessities and humanitarian supplies and the alleviation of the suffocating electricity crisis, as well as other related issues.
The threat of a vacuum and chaos also carries a message to the international community as well as the UN, the US and the EU. Each is working or seeking to prevent the situation in Gaza and Palestine in general from spiralling out of control and affecting the already shattered and unstable regional landscape.
The question here is whether or not the messages are achieving their objectives. It is clear from the initial reactions that no one cares or is concerned about reading between the lines to find the real meanings. The three concerned parties are still basing their calculations on their own interests, in isolation from the Qassam Brigades' threats. They believe that Hamas has shot itself in the foot, and that even if the threats achieved their objectives, the only thing that will be done is an improvement in the catastrophic situation and resumption of the 6- or 8-hour electricity schedule. Basically, they will be going back to the starting point and Israel's discriminatory "IV" theory. There will be no resumption of serious reconstruction in the Gaza Strip, nor a revival of the economy in the agricultural, industrial and commercial sectors. At best, things will return to their bad, but bearable, reality; in other words, the status quo before President Mahmoud Abbas's punitive measures.
Read: Hamas considering plan to scale back civilian rule of Gazay
Perhaps the most important question we need to ask is this: who will the threat of a political security vacuum in Gaza actually serve? The proposal is a wrong call by the Qassam Brigades, I think, although I fully respect the movement and its sacrifices. It is a risky move with uncalculated consequences. It will not improve Gaza's miserable situation, but will make things worse. The least costly solution is to reach an understanding with President Abbas himself, even if the Brigades must tender large and painful prices, such as dissolving the administrative committee and handing over control of Gaza to the reconciliation government after negotiating its reformation.
Another option is solving the employee crisis based on the Swiss papers and linking the timeframe for the elections with the radical and tangible improvement of the situation in the Gaza Strip. However, relying on improvement through the Egyptian side and understandings with Cairo and Dahlan, rather than the security approach, carries risks of perpetuating the division and a final separation between the West Bank and Gaza, giving Egypt an annex, while perhaps repeating this with the West Bank and Jordan. Good intentions will not be enough to influence or change the process of the separation process that Israel will use all its strength and influence to make successful. The occupying state will try to make this the only possible and realistic option to save Gaza and resolve its crises.
Translated from Al Araby Al Jadid , 22 August, 2017
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.