The Palestinian Islamic Movement Hamas and the Palestinian Secular Movement Fatah signed last week a landmark reconciliation agreement that ended an 11-year rift between the two factions. They agreed on three main issues and postponed talks on the controversial issues that might have undermined the agreement.
Brokered by Egypt, the reconciliation included an agreement on the government, employees and the Gaza crossings with Egypt and Israel. For this Hamas made significant concessions it refused to make during several previous agreements.
Hamas conceded its control over the Gaza Strip by cancelling the administrative committee which ran the ministries. It also agreed that the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) would send 3,000 security staff to control, among other things in the Strip, the crossings.
After making all of these core concessions the Islamic Movement claims it achieved big gains, but several Palestinian analysts and monitors claim the opposite. They argue that Hamas was very weak, to the point it was obliged to change its longstanding policy of maintaining its control over the Gaza Strip.
“Hamas lost all of its supporters inside Gaza and in the neighbouring region,” the Palestinian professor of Political and Social Sciences at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, Ibrahim Abrash, told MEMO. “Hamas could [no longer] pay the bill for controlling Gaza at the same time it had lost all of its regional allies, including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Qatar and Turkey.”
“Moreover,” Abrash said, “Egypt played a role which is bigger than its size. Egypt represented Saudi Arabia, the UAE and the United States in putting pressure on both Hamas and Fatah to reach reconciliation. That was carried out to prepare for the commencement of the bargain of the century.”
Adnan Abu-Amer, the Dean of the information faculty at Al-Umma University in Gaza, agreed with Abrash regarding the regional issue, but unlike Abrash, he did not go so far as to claim that Hamas has lost its allies in the region. “There [have] been dramatic changes in the region that made the reconciliation a mandatory choice for Hamas,” he said.
Professor Abdul-Sattar Qasim from Al-Najah University in the occupied West Bank, said: “Hamas came under pressure [applied] by the PA and Egypt,” stating that the PA’s punitive measures deteriorated the already deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza and Egypt. They toughened their war on the smuggling tunnels so any hope for trade in Gaza was slowly disappearing.
Qasim, however, agreed that Hamas did the right thing by accepting reconciliation, but he regretted that it gave legitimacy to the PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who, he said, “is the enemy” of the Palestinian people.
Dr Salah Abdul-Ati, a political analyst in Gaza, stressed that Hamas achieved big gains from reconciliation as it no longer has to foot the bill for the consequences of division in the coastal enclave. He did not ignore that there is dramatic change concerning alliances across the region, but insisted that Hamas decided to “take one step backward in order to prepare itself for ten steps forward”.
Abdul-Ati predicted that Hamas conceded control of the Gaza Strip in return for joining Palestinian institutions, which have international recognition. “In the light of the extreme international wave of hostility against the Islamists, Hamas, as an Islamic movement, bent down,” he said, “to let the wave pass on and at the same time it decided to immunise itself by joining the internationally recognised Palestinian institutions”.
Abu-Amer said that Hamas agreed on reconciliation in order to stop losing popularity as the majority of Gazans blame Hamas for their humanitarian suffering, noting that “stopping continuous losses is a big gain”.
Qasim insisted that Hamas does not fear the loss of its popularity whether in the occupied West Bank or the Gaza Strip, stressing that it would remain “better than Fatah anyway”. He also said that throughout its agreement on reconciliation Hamas gave a “persuasive” response to Gaza residents who claim Hamas is responsible for their suffering.
For its part Hamas said that it achieved big gains through reconciliation because it conceded partisan interests in favour of Palestinian interests. “In light of the continuous polarisation clashes in the region, the Palestinian issue lost its place on top of the agenda,” Hamas Spokesman in Gaza Hazen Qasim said. “In order to return Palestine to the top of the regional agenda, Hamas conceded everything,” he told MEMO.
This is what Taher Al-Nouno, a senior Hamas leader and media consultant for Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh, told MEMO. “We conceded power and postponed discussing the controversial issues in order to return the Palestinian issue to the top of the agenda of the Arab countries,” he said.
MEMO asked a senior Hamas leader what his movement would do if Fatah did not commit to the terms of the reconciliation agreement. He answered on condition of anonymity saying: “Hamas will resort to plan B or C.” At the same time, he insisted that Hamas would never resume control over the Gaza Strip.
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