A Different Approach (Extract)

Extract from an article in Issue 22, February 16, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Ultimately, the Seventh War, as Hamas is calling it, will be judged by the outcome of the next stage - the political-economic offensive against the organization's rule in the Gaza Strip. We must not draw conclusions on the basis of the way things look at the time of the cease-fire. For better or worse, the military results are already clear to everyone, but we cannot properly foresee how or when the long-term significance of the campaign will emerge: Will Hamas retain exclusive control? Will its international isolation continue? Will its plan to win control of the West Bank gain momentum, too? Since Israel has just demonstrated that it does not wish to use its ability to conquer the whole Strip, it is clear that Hamas will remain the dominant force in that area for the foreseeable future. The question is whether it is possible to influence the way in which Hamas behaves or the internal struggles within the movement. Can Hamas be pushed into the arms of Palestinian Authority President Mahmud Abbas and into a "national agreement" coalition? Can the assistance and rebuilding projects be exploited in order to force Hamas to give up its control of the flow of funds? We must remember that the Palestinian Authority is not really capable of returning to the Gaza Strip, unless it is acting as Hamas's junior partner. Nevertheless, Egypt and Saudi Arabia are vigorously trying to force Hamas into precisely such a partnership. Effective blocking of arms smuggling by the Egyptians is supposed to lead to a softening of Hamas's positions. And most importantly, the popular anger at Hamas and the dimensions of the carnage and destruction are forcing the organization to rapidly find answers to its critics as well as to extend urgent assistance to the needy, which it cannot do with the means currently at its disposal. It is worthwhile to attempt to push Hamas into a partnership, however tense and flimsy, with Abbas and to simultaneously try to ensure that the moderate wing of the movement is strengthened at the expense of the military leadership and its patrons in Damascus. In any case, there is no great admiration for the manner in which they functioned during the fighting. The local leadership, Ismail Haniyeh in the Strip and most of the top members in the West Bank, are not eager to return to armed conflict. And more importantly, they prefer an Arab umbrella to increasing reliance on Iran. Hamas is after one big prize: the opening of the six border crossing points into Israel, beyond the transfer of basic assistance shipments (which continued during the fighting). This was the target set by Hamas when it broke the tahadiyeh truce in December and this is the key to a large-scale reconstruction program. Israel can, therefore, signal that it would be prepared to comply - even partially - in the matter of the crossings, as long as the following terms are met: • A quick exchange deal for the release of Gilad Shalit, under reasonable conditions. • Egypt succeeds in its efforts to stop the flow of weaponry to Hamas. • Hamas joins a coalition with Abbas, on the basis of an agreed plan that ensures a prolonged truce and continued negotiations with Israel. • Palestinian Authority forces control the Palestinian side of the crossings and Fatah is able to renew its activities in the Strip. • At a later stage, Egypt opens the Rafah crossing, with the volume of traffic similar to that of the Erez crossing. • Activation of the clause in the November 2005 " Passages Agreement" that provided for convoys from the Strip to the West Bank is postponed, in order to avoid the "trickling" of Hamas influence to the West Bank. In this way, there is a chance - without guarantees, of course - that Hamas could be pushed into the arms of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Abbas, and that the scales inside the movement could be tipped towards strengthening those factions that have wanted to subject the military wing to the authority of the veterans of the Muslim Brotherhood since 2004. As Prof. Martin Kramer puts it: to extract the "M" - which stands for muqawama (resistance) - from the acronym Hamas. Extract from an article in Issue 22, February 16, 2009 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.