Hamas leaders based in Qatar have been holding talks with Palestinian officials from Fatah, the political organization that dominates the Palestinian Authority which governs the West Bank. The once rival organizations are in discussions about forming an alliance for governing Gaza after the war with Israel.
For the Palestinian Authority, this is an opportunity to return to Gaza nearly eighteen years after the organization lost the legislative elections to Hamas in 2006. The PA has been deeply unpopular among Palestinians for some time. A poll conducted in Gaza and the West Bank at the end of November found that support for Hamas tripled since the start of the war, while support for the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, dropped significantly. Over 90 percent want Abbas to resign. Many would rather have Hamas in power, and more would like Abbas replaced by convicted killer Marwan Barghouti, who is currently imprisoned in Israel.
Israel is still intent on crushing Hamas
The Palestinian Authority clearly needs Hamas, or Barghouti, in order to effectively govern Gaza. Palestinians view the PA as corrupt and weak. Some view it as a pawn in the hands of Israel and the US. An alliance with Hamas, or a change in leadership, will help legitimize their return to power.
For Hamas, an alliance means a chance to keep some control over Gaza and continue the armed struggle against Israel. Without it, Hamas leaders in Qatar fear that Israel will continue to fight Hamas and that it will eventually lose all hold over Gaza. They think that it’s time for Hamas to cut its losses.
Not everyone in Hamas agrees. While the leadership in Qatar favors a deal with the PA, the leader of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, vehemently objects to it. Sinwar does not believe that the war is lost. From his hiding place in Gaza, he thinks that the Israeli Defense Forces will soon move to low intensity fighting, with smaller forces and more localized assaults. This could ease the pressure on Hamas and give them a fighting chance. He is trying to buy time by keeping his troops hidden in tunnels and by prolonging talks over a ceasefire deal. The two differing viewpoints mean that Hamas’s leadership are on a collision course.
Views are shifting in Israel too. Throughout the war, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced his objection to President Joe Biden’s push for making the Palestinian Authority Gaza’s governing body. Although the Americans publicly support Israel and say they have not set a deadline for the war, Biden has been losing his patience with Netanyahu’s refusal to discuss post-war arrangements. He has also been critical of the far-right fractions in Netanyahu’s government who seem intent on adding flames to the fire.
Earlier this week, Netanyahu’s national security advisor, Tzachi Hanegbi, published an article in the Saudi news site Elaph, in which he claimed that a moderate Palestinian body should rule Gaza. He echoed Biden’s argument that a revitalized PA should govern. Although Biden emphasized reforming the PA to reduce corruption, Hanegbi was more concerned with a revision to the values and education given to Palestinian children.
Textbooks in Palestinian schools are notorious for glorifying terrorism, martyrdom and an armed struggle. Israel is concerned that this radicalises Palestinians from early childhood, undermining any chances of a successful peace agreement in the future.
While Hanegbi’s name is on the Elaph article, the words it contains could have come directly from Netanyahu himself. The article is directed at the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, with whom Israel hopes to normalize relations. President Biden had successfully pushed for a deal earlier this year, but negotiations got side-tracked when the war started. Netanyahu hopes to save the deal and appease Biden by signalizing to the Saudis and Americans that Israel will agree to the PA’s return to Gaza.
If the PA governs Gaza, the Palestinians will finally be reunited under a single leadership. It’s difficult to believe, however, that Israel would agree to a joint Hamas-PA rule, or any other solution that will keep Hamas in power. Despite the enormous challenges faced by the IDF when fighting highly motivated Hamas terrorists in high-intensity close-quarter combat above and below the ground — and in defiance of international pressure to stop the war — Israel is still intent on crushing Hamas. The Israeli government thinks that only by doing so can it hope to restore a feeling of safety for the public.
The option of releasing Barghouti from prison and have him lead the PA is unappealing to Netanyahu. Under Abbas, Israel managed to form relatively peaceful cooperation with the PA. However, under Barghouti, the PA is unlikely to become moderate — if anything, it will become more combative and radical, making it a greater risk to Israelis and impossible to negotiate a peace agreement with.
Biden would like to see a solution that will lead to lasting peace. As the war rages on, Israeli and Palestinian leaders realize that they have to plan for the day after, but in the fog of war, there doesn’t seem to be any good options for Gaza, or Israel, that can lead to security and a long lasting truce.
This article was originally published on The Spectator’s UK website.