Fatah and Hamas could be moving towards to a unity Palestinian government, after many past failed attempts. Israel will probably have to make its policy on the matter known soon, and the decision is more complex that meets the eye.
Hamas, isolated and under growing economic pressure, might be willing to hand over the keys to political power in Gaza, and free itself of the draining responsibilities and countless dilemmas that come from ruling over Gaza’s two million people. This would allow Hamas to focus on its military wing, and on its top priority objective of building up its Gazan terrorist-guerrilla army. Where does all of this leave Israel?
It has two ways to look at Palestinian unity. In the past, Israel has been adamant that the Palestinian Authority must walk away from any pact with Hamas, the radical Islamist entity which refuses to recognize Israel.
According to this view, any Palestinian government that includes a terrorist force working day and night to launch attacks on Israeli targets could never be seen as a legitimate partner for future peace negotiations. It could even undermine existing Israel – PA security coordination.
But there is another side to this coin: If PA President Mahmoud Abbas manages to force Hamas into a unity government, Abbas will, for the first time since 2007, be able to claim to speak for all Palestinians. This is a basic precondition for any future negotiations with Israel. Hamas will be bound by all of the PA’s past, current, and future agreements with Israel. With Hamas chiefs indicating that they are open to the idea of temporarily accepting a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, and hinting at a multi-decade ceasefire with Israel, Abbas would have the space he needs to maneuver the Palestinians into negotiating an interim deal with Israel.
That, in turn, could set the scene for a long-term movement towards a final deal, in the far off future, when conditions might allow it. Hence, according to this alternative view, a Palestinian unity government is actually an opportunity for Israel to reach an extended period of calm with the Palestinians. That could serve Israel well, by freeing up Israeli resources to deal with the top developing threat: The Iranian-Hezbollah axis that is taking over Syria. There is, however, a fundamental flaw in this more positive view of Palestinian unity. The problem is that Hamas does not seem to have any intention of co-existing with either Fatah or Israel. The evidence for Hamas’s real objectives – not only towards Israel, but also towards Fatah – are scattered everywhere, and they all point in the same direction.
In 2014, a large-scale Hamas terrorist formation in the West Bank and Jerusalem was uncovered. It planned to destabilize the region through a series of mass casualty attacks in Israel, and toppling the Palestinian Authority. The massive plot was exposed by Israel’s Shin Bet intelligence agency.
This was one of many attempts by Hamas to consolidate itself in the West Bank, overthrow Fatah, and continue its war against Israel’s very existence. Has Hamas had a change of heart, leading it to abandon its goal of replacing Fatah in the West Bank, just as it replaced it in Gaza? Is it prepared to walk away from the idea of exploiting every territory it can get hold of to attack Israel? To believe this seems like a real stretch.
Far more likely is that Hamas is desperate to find relief from the dilemmas of government in its enclave of Gaza, where it has miserably failed to care for the basic needs of Palestinians living under its rule. A unity government is, therefore, a way for Hamas in Gaza to end its isolation and economic distress, as a first stage.
In the second stage, Hamas can be expected to use its social-religious grassroots programs in the West Bank to undermine Fatah, eventually seeking to replace it, either through elections, or through another armed revolt. Hamas has already proven that it is tactically pragmatic, but strategically radical.
Its ongoing, large-scale investment in building its army in Gaza, whose goal is to wage further rounds of war on Israel, can only be truly explained by a long-term ideology of keeping the conflict with Israel alive for as long as it takes to achieve the goal of destroying it. Even if this takes centuries.
As a result, it is difficult to envisage a Fatah – Hamas unity government leading to a sustainable interim agreement, so long as Hamas’s core DNA remains unchanged. Hamas’s appetite to devour Fatah, through the ballot or the bullet, isn’t about to vanish. Its appetite to raise the Hamas flag over Ramallah, just as it did in Gaza in 2007, isn’t going to vanish.
Any unity government will be seen by Hamas as a first step across a bridge, one that stretches from Gaza to the West Bank, from where it aspires to eventually open a second front against Israel.
Notice: The views expressed above do not represent the views of the IDF, the Foreign Ministry or the organization Our Soldiers Speak. They are reflective solely of the views of the author.