A Long Truce

An article in Issue 7, July 21, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. The Gaza truce is likely to last a long time, even though Hamas has allotted it only six months. Moreover, there's a real chance that a new Palestinian political structure may evolve out of the truce, and, with it, new patterns of negotiations with Israel. Hamas views the truce as an inescapable necessity. They are not proud of the tahadiyeh that they initiated, but there is broad agreement within the organization's leadership that this course is by far preferable to continued clashes with the Israelis. It is true that Hamas, as expected, is trying to present Israel's agreement to the truce as evidence of its success in enforcing a balance of terror and in preventing Israel from striving for a military solution. Hamas is even contending that the truce constitutes Israeli reconciliation with its continued rule over the Gaza Strip - at least, that is the way it is marketing it to its own constituency. But among themselves and in private conversations, more than a few Hamas leaders understand that the truce does not include an end to the economic and diplomatic blockade of Gaza but rather an easing of the restrictions on passage of goods. It's clear to them that Egypt does not intend to allow the Rafah crossing, whenever it opens, to become the main lifeline for Gaza. The truce may ease the pressure but it won't remove it altogether. Hamas's main fear has been that Israel would simply persist in its policy of military pressure and diplomatic and economic blockade, without launching an ambitious offensive in the labyrinthine alleyways of the refugee camps - the heart of the organization's operational infrastructure. Such a "more of the same" policy on Israel's part could have caused a constant decline in their public support and toppled the Gaza Strip into a quagmire of poverty and decay. Choosing the truce was therefore the only way in which Hamas could win a time-out. But this was only the prelude to the more important decisions that are already under serious consideration. The next decision-making junction points towards the possibility of a placatory agreement with Mahmud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Once again, in contrast to Hamas's image, the organization is willing to renew the dialogue, even at the cost of far-reaching concessions. In internal discussions, things have reached a stage in which there are even voices that are calling for relinquishing Hamas's control over the institutions of government in Gaza and retreating from the military coup that the organization carried out on June 12, 2006. According to the reasoning behind this approach, Hamas could allow Abbas to appoint his own ministers, technocrats, to run the Gaza administration while Hamas would not lose any of its military power or political predominance there. Hamas, these leaders say, has turned Gaza into a solid base and no compromise deal could turn the wheel back. Though they are not yet a majority, many members of Hamas want to reach new understandings with Abbas that would create an impression of reunification of the two parts of the Palestinian Authority. On the strength of this, they hope, the blockade would be lifted. There are great obstacles to such a path, but anyone who thinks that Abbas would ultimately reject Hamas overtures is making a great mistake. His Fatah movement has no real chance of defeating Hamas. On the contrary, it needs Hamas's legitimization in order to continue its rule. Most of the people I speak with in the Fatah leadership share this analysis. It will not be a short-term process. It will take a good few months for such a dialogue between Gaza and Ramallah to get going, but the jockeying for position has already started. And just as the Egyptians are extending their sponsorship and mediation services to the truce, they are doing the same over the issue of "national unity." If the dialogue takes shape and a Palestinian government of national unity of one form or another does arise, the negotiations with Israel on the outlines of the final status will take a new direction. Abbas will no longer be considered someone who is discussing an "on-the-shelf" agreement that he does not have the power to implement, but rather as someone who has the authority to close a deal. The emphasis placed today by the international community on security and economic reforms in the West Bank will lose its urgency and a new agenda will take its place. Hamas does not intend to allow Abbas to conclude a peace with Israel. On this, there is no disagreement at all within the organization. Nevertheless, Hamas is very eager for an arrangement that would extend its truce with Israel to the West Bank as well and pave the way for the restoration of its political power there. Ironically perhaps, it is Hamas that would prefer to see a Palestinian state in temporary borders without a full peace agreement - a goal that Abbas has been consistently rejecting, even though it is the only practical option on the horizon. • An article in Issue 7, July 21, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.