abbas annapolis ear.
(photo credit: AP)
Israel is expecting any agreement with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Annapolis peace conference or afterwards to include not only the West Bank, but the entire Gaza Strip, which has been under the full control of Hamas since June.
How will Abbas be able to implement any agreement in the Gaza Strip when he hardly has control over the West Bank?
There are three ways for Abbas and his Fatah faction to regain control over the Gaza Strip.
One way is if the public there revolts against Hamas and overthrows the government of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. The second is if Hamas voluntarily relinquishes control over the Gaza Strip and invites Fatah back to power.
The third way is to remove Hamas from power by force - something that Abbas's security forces and Fatah loyalists don't seem to be capable of doing, at least not in the short term.
And since Abbas does not have the power to regain control over the Gaza Strip, the question is: What if Israel does the job for him?
The last thing Abbas would want is to return to the Gaza Strip with the help of the IDF. Such a move would only damage his credibility and turn many Arabs and Muslims against him. "Abbas would be a fool to return to the Gaza Strip aboard an Israeli tank," remarked a Hamas official in the West Bank. "Any Palestinian who enters the Gaza Strip with Israel's assistance will be treated as an enemy."
History has shown that Palestinians who were empowered by Israel did not last for long in power. The best example is the Village Leagues, a group that was established in the West Bank after Israel dismissed most of the elected pro-PLO mayors in the early 1980s.
The heads and members of the Village Leagues were quickly condemned as traitors by their own people and some of them were assassinated. The group, which was supposed to pave the way for the emergence of a "moderate" alternative to the PLO, was eventually dismantled.
Yet even if the IDF does launch a massive military operation in the Gaza Strip and kills most of the Hamas leaders, there is no guarantee that such a measure would undermine the Islamist movement.
Ironically, a military confrontation with Israel may even increase Hamas's popularity on the street.
Indeed, an Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip would deal a severe blow to Hamas. But it's unlikely to wipe out the movement entirely. Since the beginning of the second intifada in September 2000, Israel has eliminated dozens of Hamas leaders, including the spiritual founder of the movement, Ahmed Yassin, and his successor, Abdel Aziz Rantisi.
Despite the tough IDF measures, Hamas remained a strong force in the Gaza Strip until it finally won the January 2006 parliamentary election and defeated Abbas's security forces last June.
Abbas's attempts over the past few months to instigate an anti-Hamas intifada in the Gaza Strip have thus far been unsuccessful. The main reason for this failure is not because Abbas does not have enough soldiers in the Gaza Strip, but because many Palestinians living there still don't see Fatah as a better alternative to Hamas.
And there are no indications whatsoever that Hamas is moving toward ceding control over the Gaza Strip. On the contrary, Hamas leaders remain as defiant as ever. Their growing attacks on Abbas because of his participation in the Annapolis conference show that Hamas and Fatah are as far as ever from resolving their dispute.
The thousands of Hamas supporters who marched on the streets of Gaza City on Tuesday chanting, "We will never recognize Israel!" are yet another indication of the huge following that the Islamist movement still has there. The protests have also spread to the West Bank, where Abbas's security forces on Tuesday killed one Palestinian and injured several others during an anti-Hamas demonstration.
The Annapolis conference may have improved relations between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators, but it has also deepened divisions among the Palestinians. The negotiations that are expected to take place after the Annapolis meeting will only aggravate the crisis on the Palestinian arena, making it harder for Abbas to even consider the possibility of returning to the Gaza Strip.
Even before his supporters were driven out of the Gaza Strip, Abbas has little control over what was happening there. As such, any agreement with Abbas in the near future will only apply to those areas under his control in the West Bank.