Hamas seeks independence for Gaza

What does Hamas’ bid for independence mean for Abbas ahead of his own UN bid?

 Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh waves to people as they celebrate 3 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh waves to people as they celebrate 3
(photo credit: REUTERS)
For eight days during Israel’s Pillar of Defense operations, Hamas stood at the center of the world stage, representing the Palestinian cause, the so-called “armed struggle.”  And of course, in the intensive negotiations leading to the cease-fire, it was Hamas who was one of the two principle negotiators settling the terms for the cessation of hostilities. 
Where was the Palestinian Authority (PA) − the ostensible “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”?  Completely sidelined.
Now, following Pillar of Defense, Hamas is high up in Arab popular opinion. Compared with the last formal clash with Israel in 2008/2009, it has demonstrated a greatly enhanced offensive capability. Its prestige has been augmented by the support of its Muslim Brotherhood (MB) among other friends (including Turkey and the foreign ministers of a range of Arab states who came calling while hostilities raged.)  It now boasts a significant easing of restrictions on the free flow of goods and people in and out of Gaza as part of the cease-fire agreement.
It is unfortunate indeed for PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, that these events occurred just a few days before he is due to stand before the UN General Assembly to request a vote on recognizing Palestinian sovereignty within the pre-1967 borders. If successful, this would have the effect of upgrading the PA delegation at the United Nations to a non-member “observer state.”  Although Abbas is almost certain to be granted what he seeks, it will be clear to the world that he is speaking for only a proportion of the Palestinian people − in short, that his writ does not run in Gaza, home to 40 percent of Palestinians.What is worse, perhaps, is that Hamas, the de facto government of the Gaza strip, is totally opposed to Abbas’s bid for recognition of a Palestine within the 1967 borders because, by implication, that vote also recognises Israel outside them. Hamas views each round of armed conflict with Israel as a stage in a long-term war of attrition.  Refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist, and liberating Palestine "from the river to the sea," remains the ultimate aim of the Islamist organization – boosted now by the results of the “Arab Spring” which has brought MB regimes to power across the Arab world. 
When Abbas gets his vote in the UN, the Palestinian state that will be recognised will consist of 6205 square kilometers of land in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem. The rest of what was once Mandated Palestine will, by definition, be acknowledged by the UN General Assembly as Israel. So although the PA remains nominally the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people,” in practice it is pursuing a policy that will be rejected not only by Hamas in Gaza, but by a significant proportion of Arabs, including Palestinians.
While Arab newspapers like Al-Arabiya and Al-Hayat reported on it last July, western media neglected to report that Hamas was actually considering a unilateral declaration of independence, the possibility of which was seriously discussed between Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh and Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi. At the time, head of the Political Committee at the Palestinian National Council Khaled Mesmar was reported as saying, “Hamas is trying to garner as much support as possible for the idea of secession, especially among several Arab regimes.”
Now there’s a scenario that strikes terror into Abbas’ heart. Unity between Hamas and Fatah has already been stretched to breaking point. Hamas refuses to accept the legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas as president of the Palestinian Authority, and has been doing its best to undermine the PA administration in the West Bank. It has been infiltrating its agents into the region to recruit students to its version of Islamic jihad, and attempting to win over public support through welfare programs of various sorts. 
These efforts have been countered both by PA security forces and, on occasion, by those of Israel, and so far the status quo has been preserved. However, secession of Gaza from the Palestinian state for which Abbas will shortly seek recognition would create an irreversible schism in the Palestinian body politic. The result might end in a negotiated peace between Israel and a sovereign Palestine within the West Bank. But with the Gaza strip, there would be only a continuing uneasy truce or ceasefire, on the lines of that negotiated to end Israel’s Pillar of Defense operation. 
Another intriguing possibility arises from the reported discussions between Morsi and Haniyeh last July. Could Egypt be considering a more active role in an independent Gaza? Perhaps not exercising the direct administration it once had, but with a kind of stewardship this time?  After all Hamas, like Morsi, is a child of the Muslim Brotherhood, and their interests are likely to coincide. If so, no doubt this notion also strikes fear into Abbas’ heart.   The writer is the author of “One Year in the History of Israel and Palestine” (2011) and writes the blog “A Mid-East Journal” (www.a-mid-east-journal.blogspot.com)