Analysis: How Arab rivalries are delaying cease-fire process

Hamas is divided, Fatah speaks with two voices, and the Egyptians, Syrians, Qataris and Saudis are all jockeying for influence.

Abbas Haniyeh 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
Abbas Haniyeh 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Conflicting interests and power struggles in the Palestinian territories and the Arab world are largely responsible for the delay in reaching a cease-fire agreement between the Palestinians and Israel. Hamas and other Palestinians have held Israel fully responsible for the delay in forging an agreement on the Egyptian tahdiyeh [period of calm] initiative. But some Palestinians pointed out Thursday that, while this may be partially true, the divisions among the Palestinians and Arab leaders must also be taken into consideration. In the Palestinian arena, they noted, the ongoing power struggle between Fatah and Hamas, as well as rivalries within Hamas itself, have thus far foiled efforts to reach a truce. Fatah is afraid that a cease-fire would consolidate Hamas's grip on the Gaza Strip and encourage the Islamist movement to try to extend its control to the West Bank. In addition, a truce would give Hamas time to "breath" and rebuild its civil and security institutions. While Fatah leaders have openly voiced support for a cease-fire, some have been expressing hope - quietly - that the IDF would invade the Gaza Strip and overthrow the Hamas regime. Within Hamas, differences of opinion have surfaced over whether to accept the Egyptian initiative and under what conditions. Some Hamas leaders, including Ismail Haniyeh, have been strongly pushing for accepting the Israeli conditions, first and foremost that abducted IDF soldier Gilad Schalit be part of a cease-fire deal. Other Hamas leaders, however, including Khaled Mashaal, Mahmoud Zahar and Said Siam, continue to insist that the case of Schalit be dealt with only after the truce goes into effect. And then there are Hamas's problems with other armed Palestinian factions. At least three groups - Islamic Jihad, Fatah's Aksa Martyrs Brigades and the Popular Resistance Committees - continue to express reservations about the Egyptian plan. Some Hamas leaders are worried that their movement won't be able to persuade the three groups to honor a cease-fire agreement with Israel. "Even if Hamas accepts the truce plan, there is no guarantee that it would be able to enforce its will on the other groups operating in the Gaza Strip," said a Palestinian political analyst in Ramallah. "We will find ourselves going back to the days when Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas were in control of the Gaza Strip but were unable to stop the rocket attacks." As if that was not enough, the sharp divisions among Arab leaders are also seen as a major obstacle to a truce accord. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is desperate to prove to the US and the rest of the world that his country remains a major player in the Middle East. He is convinced that a cease-fire between the Palestinians and Israel would also help him score points in Washington and EU capitals. Mubarak wants his son, Gamal, to succeed him. He knows that to achieve his goal he needs the backing of the Americans and Europeans. Mubarak is also eager to regain Egypt's status as the most influential Arab country - a role that has been taken over by Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other insignificant Arab countries. Mubarak is jealous of the Qataris who managed to solve the political crisis in Lebanon last month. The Qataris are being hailed by the Arabs as the most influential players in the Arab world. Mubarak is also concerned that another Arab country, not Egypt, will succeed in solving the dispute between Fatah and Hamas. That's why earlier this week he offered to host reconciliation talks between the two Palestinian groups in Cairo. But, the political analyst in Ramallah pointed out, it's highly unlikely that Syrian President Bashar Assad would allow Mubarak's efforts to succeed. Relations between Assad and Mubarak have deteriorated to a point where the two have made it clear they will never agree to be seen in the same room. Assad is said to be particularly disturbed by the apparent rapprochement between Cairo and Hamas, whose top leaders are based in Damascus. The Syrians want Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups to remain under their supervision so that they can use them as a bargaining chip in future negotiations with Israel. The Saudis are also jockeying for a bigger role in the Israeli-Arab conflict. Earlier this week, Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah also offered to host Fatah-Hamas reconciliation talks, reminding the two parties of the Mecca "unity" agreement they reached two years ago under his auspices [and pressure]. The Saudi rulers are also angry with Assad, who, they argue, has been inciting Hamas not to listen to the advice coming from Riyadh. Moreover, the Saudis are said to be very jealous of their rivals in Qatar for striking the historic deal between the warring Lebanese factions. Reports that Qatar was involved in attempts to reach a cease-fire agreement between Israel and the Palestinians have prompted the Saudis to pressure Fatah and Hamas to resolve their differences and form a new unity government.