There’s a serious split in Hamas, reflecting the growing civil war among
Islamists along Sunni-Shia lines. Each side is radical, but the fact that
they’re fighting among themselves weakens both of them.
involved are tactical, not strategic. Indeed, what is ironic is that Khaled
Mashaal, who historically has been described as the radical, is following the
approach that will seem moderate to the naïve, while Ismail Haniyeh, described
by the naive as the moderate, is leading the ostensibly more radical
Mashaal signed a deal with Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud
Abbas for a coalition between Hamas and the PA. Of course, neither partner
trusts the other in the least. Mashal wants to take over the PA; Abbas wants to
tame Hamas and recapture the Gaza Strip or – at least – present the Palestinians
as united to the world in order to demand a state now without any need to make
peace with Israel.
In contrast, Haniyeh claims that this deal is a
sell-out to the PA’s cowardly compromisers. Haniyeh was just in Tehran, where
his hosts repeatedly warned him against the “compromising” traitors in Hamas’s
ranks. Of course, the deal with the PA is nothing of the sort.
behind this split is the broader conflict between the Sunni and Shia Islamist
camps. Haniyeh is siding with the Iranians, who have a lot of money but are
Shia; Mashaal is linking up with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which borders
on the Gaza Strip, is Sunni, is now gaining power in Egypt and belongs to the
same organization as Hamas.
I’m putting my money on Mashaal. The Iranians
can provide money, but only the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood can ultimately be a
real patron on the ground, forwarding money, men, weapons and material goods to
the Gaza Strip. If Hamas goes to war with Israel again it will be Egypt, not
Iran (even if it has nuclear weapons) that will matter in the battle.
there’s another irony here that makes sense. Mashaal has spent most of his time
outside of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Thus, he has had more contact
with Iran. Haniyeh has been actually running the Gaza Strip to a large extent
and thus has more contact with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. I guess
familiarity breeds contempt. Each man is trying to escape the orbit of the
powerful big brother he has been dealing with all these years.
will not dominate Hamas and take over the Gaza Strip. Nor will Hamas be able to
seize power in the West Bank, in part because Israel won’t allow that to
And here’s still another irony.
Since Haniyeh is against
the deal, he and his allies will make sure that Fatah cannot campaign freely in
the Gaza Strip.
The projected PA elections will never come off and the
Hamas-PA deal will break down, probably within the next six months. Yet the
battle between the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood (aided by the Jordanian branch)
and Iran over influencing Hamas will continue.
In short, all of Hamas
remains radical, and the only difference is over how best to wipe out Israel and
commit genocide against the Jews. The Palestinians also remain badly divided.
None of the leadership can deliver peace with Israel and none of these leaders
want peace (and a Palestinian state based on a two-state solution) enough to
make the compromises necessary to achieve it.
There is still another
important element in Palestinian politics receiving almost no attention: the
future leadership of the PA and Fatah. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is a
relatively honest, relatively moderate technocrat. All of Hamas and most of
Fatah loathe him. He only holds his office because the Western donors want him
there. Can he last out this year or the next? The problem is that a PA-Hamas
deal requires either that Abbas or a Hamas leader becomes prime
Remember that the post of prime minister was originally created
due to Western insistence that someone be in a position to stop Yasser Arafat,
Abbas’s predecessor, from stealing the money being donated.
Abbas himself. He has been ailing, and while his periodic resignation threats
have been phony ways of preserving his leverage and getting things he wants, his
retirement is only a matter of time. It is hard to believe he will still be
leading Fatah and the PA by, say, December 2013.
Who will replace him?
You can throw around various names, but don’t bother. No one has the slightest
idea. There is not a single serious candidate. Presumably, the Fatah barons will
make the choice.
Abbas originally got the job precisely because he was so
None of the Fatah warlords or bosses felt threatened by a man with
no popular or organizational base of support.
It was also advantageous
that Abbas was the most relatively moderate of the Fatah leaders and would have
the best image with the Western governments and media.
Of course, when I
say relatively moderate that should be considered within the spectrum of Fatah
leadership. Abbas is more aware of the benefits of a compromise peace with
Israel and more realistic about Fatah’s inability to wipe it out.
he is dead set on the idea that unless Israel agrees to take back any
Palestinian who can trace his ancestry to pre-1948 residence, there can be no
If he is a tiny bit more willing to compromise on borders or
anything else, a combination of his weakness, intransigence, and knowledge of
public opinion and his colleagues’ views prevents him from ever doing
Abbas’s successor is almost certainly going to be more
There are two main factions in Fatah, and hence in the PA. The
Arafat cronies, who are more corrupt and satisfied with the status quo, and the
Fatah radicals, who’d like to see another round of fighting because they still
believe in the group’s revolutionary ideology.
The latter group includes
both older and younger – notably Marwan Barghouti (he’s 53 years old but
considered one of the young guard, which tells you something, doesn’t it?) –
people, who don’t work together.
In short, Palestinian politics are a
mess. There are fewer real moderates proportionately than you’ll find in any
Arab state, where they are also small minorities. Nobody can deliver peace; no
one will actually fight for a compromise peace agreement with Israel.
whole “peace process” delusion is built on never actually examining the real
Palestinian political scene. Yearning for peace is completely understandable;
supporting a two-state solution is just fine. But pretending to oneself that
there’s any basis for these things actually happening is quite
The writer’s new book, Israel: An Introduction, has just
been published by Yale University Press. He is director of global research in
the International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and a featured columnist at PJM and
editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal.