While Palestinian Authority officials are threatening to renounce all agreements with Israel if it proceeds with its plan to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank, Hamas leaders maintain that Palestinians should respond by stepping up anti-Israel “resistance” activities and achieving “national unity.”
The PA wants the international community to strongly denounce Israel, while Hamas is talking about the need for renewed violence in the West Bank and an end to the rift with its rivals in the ruling Fatah faction.
The PA and Hamas have been at loggerheads since 2007, when the Islamist movement seized control of the Gaza Strip. Since then, the two parties have been operating as separate governing bodies. As a result of the dispute, there is almost no coordination between the PA and Hamas in most fields, including the political arena.
In recent weeks, the PA has been waging a diplomatic campaign to rally as many countries as possible against the Israeli plan, scheduled to be implemented on July 1. The PA is also hoping that several international institutions, including the UN Security Council and General Assembly, would endorse the Palestinian stance against the plan.
Many Palestinians, meanwhile, remain skeptical about PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s recurring threats to walk away from the signed agreements with Israel.
On Sunday, senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed said Abbas has formed a joint PLO-Fatah committee to study the PA response to the Israeli plan. The formation of the committee is seen by some Palestinians as an attempt to “bury” the controversy surrounding the plan and divert attention from Abbas’s failure to carry out his repeated threats.
PLO and Fatah officials who participated in emergency meetings in Ramallah last week to discuss the Israeli plan to apply Israeli law to parts of the West Bank expressed doubt that Abbas would carry out his threats.
The officials pointed out that the Palestinian leadership does not hold powerful cards that could be used against Israel and the US administration.
The officials noted, however, that the Palestinian leadership may present broad international opposition to, and condemnation of, the Israeli plan as a “major diplomatic achievement” for the Palestinians – one that does not necessarily require Abbas to take draconian measures, such as terminating agreements with Israel.
Hamas, on the other hand, is already indicating that international condemnations and UN resolutions rejecting the Israeli plan will not be enough.
Such condemnations have previously proven to be ineffective, a Hamas official said on Sunday, adding that statements from the international community had failed to prevent US President Donald Trump from recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital or move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
“Hamas believes there are only two ways to confront the Israeli plan,” the Hamas official said. “First, by achieving national unity. Second, by escalating the resistance against Israel, especially in the West Bank.”
The official added, nonetheless, that he does not believe Abbas is interested in ending his dispute with Hamas. Nor is Abbas interested in a new wave of violence in the West Bank, because he is afraid that anarchy and lawlessness would undermine the PA, the Hamas official explained.
Musa Abu Marzouk, a member of the Hamas “political bureau,” said the Palestinians need to agree on a “unified national program” if they want to succeed in thwarting the Israeli plan. That program, he said, should be based on carrying out “resistance” activities and abandoning the option of a peaceful settlement with Israel.
When Hamas talks about “resistance” activities, it means it wants to see Palestinians resort to armed attacks against Israel, preferably in the context of a new intifada (uprising). But Hamas knows that as long as security coordination between the PA and Israel continues, it would be almost impossible for its members to resume major terrorist attacks.
That is why several Hamas officials have called on the Palestinian leadership to at least halt the security coordination in response to the Israeli plan.
Abdel Latif Qanou, a Hamas spokesperson in the Gaza Strip, said he was expecting Abbas to “give the resistance a free hand to operate in the West Bank.” Qanou, in other words, wants Abbas to order his security forces to stop their crackdown on Hamas members in the West Bank so that they would be able to launch attacks against Israel if and when the Israeli plan is implemented.
In addition, Qanou said, Hamas wants Abbas to cancel the Oslo Accords signed with Israel in 1993 and revoke PLO recognition of Israel’s right to live in peace and security.
What is certain is that Hamas does not want the Palestinian response to the Israeli plan to come from the Gaza Strip. Hamas leaders have stressed in recent months that, for now, they are not interested in another military confrontation with Israel.
That is why Hamas leaders have so far refrained from threatening to resume terrorist attacks against Israel from the Gaza Strip. Instead, they are emphasizing that the response should be in the West Bank, with the hope that Palestinians would be targeting soldiers and settlers.
Even if the Palestinians in the West Bank don’t heed Hamas’s call for erupting into violence against Israel, Hamas is confident that the Israeli plan, if implemented, would further undermine the PA’s credibility, particularly regarding Abbas’s declared commitment to the two-state solution and peace with Israel.
Under the current circumstances, Hamas’s chances of triggering a new intifada against Israel in the West Bank are almost nonexistent. Hamas, meanwhile, is hoping that the Israeli plan would at least drive more Palestinians toward the Hamas-led rejectionist camp, which believes in the armed struggle as the only means to “liberate all of Palestine, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.”