Egypt and Israel seek demise of Hamas as politico-military force
Despite Israel’s primary demand, Hamas refuses to demilitarise
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat (left) talks with Arab League chief Nabil el-Araby during their meeting at the Arab League in Cairo on Monday. Photograph: Asmaa Waguih/Reuters
Both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are in a sinking boat, kept afloat temporarily by Palestinian high spirits due to the strong defensive stand taken by Palestinian fighters during Israel’s month-long campaign in Gaza. However, Palestinians living in the narrow coastal strip besieged and blockaded by Israel are assessing the cost in terms of civilian deaths and destruction of homes and infrastructure and weighing debits against potential credits secured from Egyptian-brokered talks with Israel.
Hamas, which rules Gaza, could face a backlash if the deal with Israel fails to open the gates allowing people and goods to exit and enter the strip and to permit the import of materials urgently needed to rebuild. Gazans are wary of Israeli commitments not met.
Israel – which imposed an ever-tightening blockade on Gaza after Hamas won the 2006 parliamentary election – failed to honour pledges after captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was exchanged for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in 2011 and in accordance with an Egyptian-mediated ceasefire following fighting in 2012.
This is why Palestinians are insisting on the reopening of the airport near Rafah in the south and the construction of a port which could forge independent links to the outside world. Israel says it is ready to consider this demand within the context of negotiations with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, headed by discredited president Mahmoud Abbas.
Negotiations collapsed in April when US secretary of state John Kerry failed to achieve progress on a “two- state solution” involving the emergence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. Kerry has no desire to risk another failure.
Abbas’s inability to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza through ne- gotiations over the past two decades has finished him off with the majority of Palestinians. This week he attempted to claim a role in the post-conflict scenario for the Palestinian Authority which he heads when he dispatched chief negotiator Saeb Erekat to Cairo to urge the Arab League and Egypt to press for the primary, urgent Palestinian demand for the lifting of the siege and blockade. Granting this would “rescue” the Authority – but also strengthen Hamas.
SurvivalPalestinians in Gaza and the West Bank argue that the Authority, regarded as impotent and corrupt, should be dissolved, but Egypt and Israel seek to use ceasefire arrangements to ensure its survival and Hamas demise as a politico-military movement. They plan to deploy the Authority’s security forces in Gaza and put the Authority in charge of reconstruction with the object of ousting Hamas, which has ruled Gaza for seven years.
Hamas has agreed to this plan and to hand over to the consensus government of technocrats formed in June by Hamas and Abbas’s Fateh movement, which dominates the Authority. However, Hamas and its allies have said they would not disarm or demobilise their military wings. Demilitarisation of Gaza is the primary Israeli demand – a demand the weak Authority cannot meet.