Ab­bas and his Pyrrhic vic­tory over Ha­mas

The Jerusalem Post - - COMMENT & FEATURES - • By ALEX BEN­JAMIN The au­thor is di­rec­tor of EIPA: Europe Is­rael Public Af­fairs, a multi-dis­ci­plined pro-Is­rael ad­vo­cacy group based in Brus­sels, with of­fices in Paris and Ber­lin.

‘My fa­ther taught me many things here – he taught me in this room. He taught me – keep your friends close but your en­e­mies closer.” – Michael Cor­leone in The God­fa­ther Part II (1974)

Af­ter weeks of talks spear­headed by Egypt at the be­hest of the Arab League, and with lit­tle white smoke to show for them, we at Europe Is­rael Public Af­fairs (EIPA) were as sur­prised as any­one at the news yes­ter­day.

Is­mail Haniyeh, the po­lit­i­cal chief of Ha­mas, said that the or­ga­ni­za­tion is ready to talk rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas with­out pre­con­di­tions and that he would “dis­solve” his lead­er­ship com­mit­tee in Gaza – a key Ab­bas de­mand.

This move came like a bolt out of the blue. Ha­mas had, up un­til Mon­day at least, de­manded that Ab­bas halt a se­ries of sanc­tions taken against it be­fore even sit­ting down to dis­cuss a rec­on­cil­i­a­tion deal. And Ha­mas, as we all know, doesn’t do climb­downs.

The sanc­tions? Well you may re­mem­ber that Ab­bas, by pre­sent­ing Is­rael with a de facto ul­ti­ma­tum as the key sup­plier of fuel and elec­tric­ity to the Strip, uni­lat­er­ally cut elec­tric­ity in Gaza in early May, and for good mea­sure slashed the salar­ies of tens of thou­sands of Ha­mas “civil” ser­vants. The move was his not-so-sub­tle at­tempt to force the dis­so­lu­tion of the com­mit­tee that Ha­mas has used to run the ter­ri­tory in de­fi­ance of Ab­bas’ govern­ment.

This crude tac­tic ap­pears, on pa­per at least, to have worked.

Sum­mer in Is­rael tends to be Ha­mas’ fa­vorite sea­son to un­leash bloody may­hem through rocket at­tacks and tun­nel in­cur­sions into the State of Is­rael. In­stead, it was one of the qui­etest sum­mers on record.

Nat­u­rally this lull didn’t stop Ha­mas from mak­ing grotesque state­ments glo­ri­fy­ing stab­bing at­tacks and urg­ing bloody retri­bu­tion for an en­tirely man­u­fac­tured and fab­ri­cated cri­sis about Is­raeli plans to take over the Tem­ple Mount, but still, this move is un­prece­dented and hands Ab­bas a much needed vic­tory over his ri­vals. But does it re­ally?

A brief his­tory recap: the ri­val Pales­tinian fac­tions split in 2007 when Ha­mas vi­o­lently routed forces loyal to Ab­bas from Gaza. It was mer­ce­nary and bloody, with tit for tat mur­ders and hor­rific acts of vi­o­lence, cul­mi­nat­ing in Fatah lead­ers in Gaza be­ing thrown off roofs to their death. Very Si­cil­ian. Re­peated at­tempts by nu­mer­ous thirds par­ties at rec­on­cil­ing the two sides had hith­erto failed.

That’s why we at EIPA re­main very wary. While Ab­bas may have stud­ied the Cor­leone fam­ily play­book in his deal­ings with Ha­mas, and while his ini­tia­tive ap­pears to have borne fruit, we think that this may just be a strate­gic move on the part of Ha­mas. The bad blood be­tween both “fam­i­lies” runs too deep.

It’s worth not­ing the key to all this: that at the same time as the rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ne­go­ti­a­tions were on­go­ing, and with an eye firmly to the North where they saw the ben­e­fits brought to Hezbol­lah in cold hard cash, the Ha­mas lead­er­ship has been mov­ing, un­der the radar to most ex­cept thank­fully the Shin Bet (Is­raeli Se­cu­rity Agency), on a sig­nif­i­cant rap­proche­ment with Iran. Tem­po­rar­ily bury­ing the hatchet with the PA gives them the space, not to say means, to carry on do­ing so.

Again, a bit of a recap: let’s go back to Fe­bru­ary and the election of Ha­mas’ new po­lit­i­cal bu­reau – the lead­er­ship body – when it re­ceived new lead­ers and new blood.

The me­te­oric rise of the mil­i­tant Yahya Sin­war to the po­si­tion of Ha­mas leader in Gaza, and the election of some of the mem­bers of the pro-Ira­nian axis, like Saleh al-Arouri, sig­naled the be­gin­ning of a thaw in Ha­mas’ re­la­tions with Iran. Sin­war is also one of the clos­est peo­ple to the Muham­mad Deif, the head of Ha­mas’ mil­i­tary wing, whose stated in­ter­est lies in se­cur­ing Ira­nian aid and ap­ing Hezbol­lah in a per­verse “grace and fa­vor” re­la­tion­ship with Tehran.

How all of this plays out would sim­ply be con­jec­ture, but we can say that the Pales­tinian po­lit­i­cal and mil­i­tant dy­namic is most cer­tainly in a state of evolv­ing and po­ten­tially even more dan­ger­ous flux.

So, while the PA lead­er­ship may be col­lec­tively pat­ting it­self on the back, they should be­ware of hubris. Ha­mas are not only adept at play­ing the long game, un­like the PA they also ap­pear to have a long-term strat­egy.

At the back of it all is Iran. The Tehran regime ap­pears to be extending one of its many fetid ten­ta­cles and up­ping its ante in a dan­ger­ous, febrile Mid­dle-East arena: the tin­der box that is the Gaza Strip. Food for thought for any EU for­eign pol­icy big-wigs who may be rush­ing to laud this lat­est move.

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