“Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi should insist that Hamas embrace (the Arab Peace Initiative) and join the ranks of the rest of the Arab world. The US and the EU should lend public support to this effort, which will open the door to legitimise Hama
The current efforts to reconcile between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas will be doomed to fail just like several previous attempts, unless both sides agree to resolve three major obstacles — a united strategy to find a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the fate of Hamas’ cache of weapons, and the Palestinians’ future government — that have haunted them since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007. Given their mutual animosity and deadly rivalry, the question is, will the Palestinians be able this time around to play their cards right?
First, agreeing on a peaceful solution to their conflict with Israel remains the central issue over which they must reach a consensus. Whereas the PA has long-since recognised Israel on the basis of the June 4, 1967 borders, Hamas — even though it has stated its willingness to negotiate with Israel on a two-state solution — continues to call for Israel’s ultimate destruction.
If Hamas were to join the PA and the latter assumes the responsibility to negotiate with Israel, neither the current right-wing nor even a future centrist/leftist Israeli government would negotiate with the PA unless Hamas first recognises Israel and renounces violence, which it is unlikely to do.
Since it is widely assumed, however, that without Hamas no Israeli-Palestinian peace can endure, the question is how to persuade Hamas to accept the two preconditions without losing face. The answer lies with the Arab Peace Initiative (API). Acting as the mediator between Hamas and the PA, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi should insist that Hamas embrace the API and join the ranks of the rest of the Arab world. The US and the EU should lend public support to this effort, which will open the door to legitimise Hamas as a partner in negotiations with Israel.
In the main, the API stipulates that recognition of Israel is conditional upon returning territories captured in 1967, a ‘just solution’ for the Palestinian refugees, and East Jerusalem becoming the capital of a newly-established Palestinian state. By Hamas embracing the API, it will strengthen the hands of Israel’s centre and left parties who will then be in a strong position to present to the Israeli public a credible framework for peace. I maintain that short of achieving that, the PA and Hamas will continue to shuffle the cards, yet neither will score a winning hand.
The second major obstacle is Hamas’ possession of thousands of rockets and the determination of its military wing to retain them under any circumstances. PA President Mahmoud Abbas is correct to demand that Hamas must surrender such weapons, insisting that he will not allow Gaza to mirror the situation in Lebanon, where Hezbollah maintains a de facto state within a state with a huge arsenal at its disposal, free to operate as it deems fit.
Moreover, any Israeli government, regardless of its political leaning, will insist that a future Palestinian state be demilitarised and will not negotiate with the Palestinians under any threat. Given the unlikelihood that Hamas will surrender its stockpile of rockets to the PA and its desire to mend its differences with Egypt, President Sisi is in a position to insist that Hamas store its arsenal with Egypt.
In return, Egypt will open the border to Gaza and be in a strong position to coax Israel to gradually lift the blockade to ease the humanitarian crisis of the Palestinians, which Hamas desperately wants to alleviate. This was indeed one of the main motivators behind Hamas’ willingness to end its discord with the PA.
Egypt’s role as a go-between is indispensable, without which the prospect of a sustained unity agreement between the PA and Hamas is next to impossible. Moreover, the fact that Egypt is at peace with Israel puts it in a perfect position to also help shape the unity agreement between Hamas and the PA and make it ultimately conducive to peace with Israel.