Hamas-Fatah reconciliation talks – a Hezbollah Model?

Oct 11, 2017

Hamas-Fatah reconciliation talks - a Hezbollah Model?

Update from AIJAC

October 11, 2017

Update 10/17 #02

With Fatah-Hamas negotiations over a unity government and other arrangements for Gaza starting in Cairo today, this Update looks at the issues being discussed, the likelihood of success, and in particular, whether Hamas is seeking what has been described as a ‘Hezbollah model”. This would be a situation, like Hezbollah’s in Lebanon, whereby the PA would run civilian services in Gaza, but Hamas would have all military power in the strip. 

We lead with a report from Haaretz on the Cairo talks, and in particular what is and is not being discussed. Reporter Jack Khoury says the current discussion will deal with only relatively easy administrative issues – leaving the harder issues, especially what will happen to Hamas’ armed wing and issues surrounding negotiations with Israel, until later. He quotes the Egyptians, who are the key players in this process, as saying they are determined to avoid hard questions for now to keep the process from failing at the first hurdle. Yet Khoury notes that the fundamental differences between the two sides will have to be addressed at some point. For his report on where the process is now,  CLICK HERE.

Next up is Times of Israel Palestinian Affairs reporter Avi Issacharoff, who explores what Hamas may be thinking in the current process. In particular, he looks at  the Hezbollah model noted above, whereby ” the Palestinian Authority [is] to run ongoing affairs in the Gaza Strip, to worry about electricity, water, sewage, social welfare, unemployment, and so on, while making sure that Hamas’s military wing retains all its weaponry.” He notes that Hamas, which has run Gaza so poorly for its population, may be willing to turn over governance to the PA, but has made it very clear it will not be giving up its arms – or its effective military control. He also discusses the problems this model would cause for both the PA and Israel. To read his detailed and knowledgeable discussion, CLICK HERE

Finally, Israel academic expert Dr. Eyal Zisser says Hamas is looking for  solutions to the problems it has created for Gaza in a decade of misrule from both Iran and the Palestinian Authority. He argues anything the “Hezbollah model” Hamas is proposing would be a charade with Hamas still essentially possessing the ultimate say in Gaza. He also says such a model would be a win for Hamas – and something Israel cannot let pass without a challenge, as it would essentially end Israeli leverage against the group to deter attacks. For Zisser’s complete argument, CLICK HERE.

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Palestinian factions negotiate unity in Egypt but leave hard questions at the door

Hamas and Fatah begin reconciliation talks on Tuesday in Cairo. Both parties are determined not to return to decades-old divisions, but talks expected to focus on the situation in Gaza, and not on Israel

By Jack Khoury 

Haaretz, Oct. 9, 2017 

The reconciliation talks between Fatah and Hamas begin in Cairo on Tuesday under the auspices of Egyptian intelligence, a week after the ceremonial cabinet meeting in Gaza in which both groups took part, again with Egyptian intelligence chiefs on hand.

The Hamas and Fatah leaders arrived Monday evening in Cairo. Senior Hamas official Saleh al-Arouri will be heading his side’s delegation, with his team including Yahya Sinwar, the head of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and Moussa Abu Marzouk, who led the group’s representation during reconciliation talks in the past.

Hamas ensured that the delegation would have one representative from the Strip and one from the diaspora, to show a united front, while Arouri and Sinwar are also part of the security apparatus. Hamas continues to maintain that the group seeks a true reconciliation, not a return to the decades-old divisions.

The Fatah delegation includes central committee member Azzam al-Ahmad, who is responsible for the movement’s reconciliation portfolio, as well as the minister for civilian affairs, Hussein al-Sheikh. Also on board are other members of the central committee, in addition to Majid Faraj, head of Palestinian security and a close associate of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinians stress that the presence of Faraj and Sinwar is very important for advancing the talks and implementing the decisions in the field.

As Haaretz reported last week, the negotiations aren’t starting from scratch but will be based on the 2011 Cairo agreement. Both organizations agree that the changes in the region since then mean that amendments and new agreements are needed, but not a reopening of all the agreement’s clauses.

Fatah spokesman Osama Qawasmeh told Voice of Palestine radio that three days have been allotted to the talks but the timetable is flexible and will depend on the progress. The main objective of the first stage is to focus on the full functioning of the Palestinian government in Gaza, both from the civilian and administrative perspective, as well as security issues including the border crossings.

Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub told Haaretz that both sides seek a true partnership both in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, one based on the Palestine Liberation Organization and various international resolutions and decisions including the Arab Peace Initiative.

“The aim is to reach agreements on everything, including how to resist the occupation and implementing this resistance,” Rajoub said. “From our perspective, we will work toward implementing a model of nonviolent, popular struggle against the occupation.”

As an Egyptian official close to the intelligence community told Haaretz, “During the first stage the parties won’t deal with strategic issues like Hamas’ military arm or the diplomatic process, but will focus on civilian issues and managing Gaza’s issues so as to stabilize the situation there and then go into the tougher issues.”

According to that source, the Egyptians won’t let the process fail at such an early and critical stage because of the implications for the region. Also, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi is personally involved in the process.

Sissi, who met Sunday with his National Security Council, including his intelligence chiefs, reportedly said: “The Egyptian effort toward domestic Palestinian reconciliation constitutes a first step that prepares the ground for peace between the Palestinians and Israel.” In Egypt, some observers are taking things one step further, stressing that Sissi’s words are linked to the overall “regional deal” that U.S. President Donald Trump has been talking about.

Still, despite the optimism and the pressure from both the people and the Egyptians to make progress on a reconciliation deal, the Palestinians realize that at some point they have to move beyond the administrative and security issues and present a strategy for where the Palestinians want to go. Both Fatah and Hamas have adopted opposing approaches of the past quarter-century, neither of which has led to independence and self-determination for the Palestinian people.

Fatah, with Oslo and direct talks with Israel, isn’t getting any closer to its declared goals despite ostensible international support. The United States’ gamble on being a sponsor has failed and the international community isn’t hurrying to adopt the Palestinian narrative.

Hamas, with its strategy of armed struggle, hasn’t even managed to ease the blockade on Gaza, get a seaport or airport, or gain a foothold in the West Bank. The group also realizes that the era of an agenda that squares with winning the support of the Muslim Brotherhood and its patrons has been an utter failure.

Yet addressing domestic power struggles and day-to-day issues will at some point have to yield a clear answer to the people who are seeking freedom and self-determination.


Article 2

Sick of running Gaza, Hamas may be aiming to switch to a Hezbollah-style role


Islamist terror group has internalized that taking full responsibility for Gaza is a recipe for trouble. Better to do a unity deal and let the PA do the dirty work



Times of Israel,  October 1, 2017

It’s hard to keep track of the number of times Hamas and Fatah have purportedly been on the threshold of reconciliation. And it’s near impossible to keep track of the number of words that have been written in the Palestinian press and the wider Arab media by high-ranking officials in both movements about the imperative for national reconciliation and unity between Gaza and the West Bank.

Now Palestinian unity is back in the headlines again. A huge, 460-member delegation from the Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah, headed by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and comprising officials, security personnel, and experts on water and electricity and who knows what else, is due in Gaza on Monday to emblemize the “return of the PA government to the Gaza Strip.” Some pioneering members of the delegation actually arrived on Thursday.

Slightly more than ten years after the split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, when Hamas bloodily overthrow the PA’s regime there, a historic moment of unity is supposedly upon us. The delegation, which has rented rooms in some of Gaza’s hotels, plans to hold various talks and discussions, mainly for the protocol and the cameras, in order to give at least the appearance of reconciliation.
One cannot avoid a sense of deja vu. Didn’t we see something rather like this unfolding back in April 2014, with a unity agreement and the establishment of a “national consensus government”? Unity did not ensue. After the “consensus” government was established, PA President Mahmoud Abbas firmly refused to fund the salaries of Hamas’s officials in Gaza. Then came the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers, and the Hamas-Israel war in the shape of Operation Protective Edge.

Deja Vu?: Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah shakes hands with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, at Haniyeh’s house in Gaza city on October 9, 2014, following a previous unity deal. 

So how is this situation any different? It may not be. The details of the understandings between the parties are not clear. It is hard to imagine either one backing down on issues of substance, such as Hamas’s retention of its weaponry and the issue of who will control the Gaza borders. We may see another repeat of the familiar pattern: a festival of unity followed by difficulties in the talks and, finally, a widening of the rift and a worsening of the rivalries.

But some things really have shifted.

First, Hamas’s leadership changed in recent months. Khaled Mashaal and his gang of leaders living abroad are no longer in charge. Hamas is now led by two men who live in the Gaza Strip and were born in its refugee camps. Ismail Haniyeh, from the Shati camp, who heads the political wing, and Yahya Sinwar, born in the Khan Younis refugee camp, who is the leader of Hamas in Gaza.

Haniyeh and Sinwar endorse Palestinian unity even though it is not exactly clear what they have in mind. They speak constantly about the imperative, and have tried taking several confidence-building measures with Fatah and its leader, Abbas. Abbas has spoken several times in recent weeks with Haniyeh; a channel of dialogue has opened.

Hamas Chief Ismail Haniyeh, center, speaks with Hamas chief in Gaza Yahya Sinwar, left, upon his arrival on the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing, in the southern Gaza Strip on September 19, 2017. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Officials in charge of the security forces of each group are also talking, for a start on coordinating the arrival of the enormous delegation on Monday. Hamas officials have announced the dismantling of the “management committee” they had established in the Gaza Strip to replace Hamdallah’s government. The committee was ditched without preconditions, even though Hamas had set quite a few conditions in the past, notably including a demand for the lifting of the PA’s sanctions on Gaza.

Heed should be taken, too, of statements made Thursday by Sinwar, who was until fairly recently the most radical of Hamas’s leaders, to a group of young people in Gaza.

“I will break the neck of anyone who is against the reconciliation, be he from Hamas or from any other group,” Sinwar declared. “The decision to end the split is a strategic one. There is no way back from it.”

He also said that Mohammed Deif — the Hamas terror chief and commander of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades — is in favor of reconciliation. “The leaders of the Palestinian Authority must end this period of the split and turn toward the future in order to build a national plan,” he said. “Hamas will make painful concessions, each more difficult than the one before it, in order to achieve reconciliation.”

The cherry on top: “Hamas dismantled the management committee even before Abu Mazen [Abbas] got up to speak at the UN [General Assembly last week] because Hamas believes that a strong president is in the interest of the nation and the Palestinians.”

Sinwar said that Hamas was maintaining full coordination with the many rival groups in the Gaza Strip, and “we hope to integrate all of them into the Palestinian national army.”

The change in personnel and tone in the Hamas leadership connects to an uncomfortable reality for the Islamist terror group: Hamas has been forced to acknowledge its failure of governance on the civilian level — life in Gaza is unremittingly grim under its rule — and the consequent danger that the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip will rise up against it.

The willingness to dismantle the management committee unconditionally, and to hand over the keys to Hamdallah’s government where civilian matters are concerned, is tantamount to an open public admission of failure.

Hamas tried in every way possible for a decade to hold on to its control of Gaza, but now is showing clear signs of willingness to step aside, at least in the civic sphere.

Palestinian children do their homework by candlelight during a power outage in Gaza City on September 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

The appalling electricity shortage (Gaza’s inhabitants currently receive only five hours of electricity per day), the shut-offs in the water supply (they have running water only once every four days on average), the sky-high unemployment rate (approximately 44 percent), the slow rebuilding of the Gaza Strip after the 2014 conflict with Israel, the Egyptian closure of the Rafah border crossing — all these have combined to cause Hamas, and primarily Sinwar and Haniyeh, to rethink the matter of controlling the coastal enclave.

This is dramatic, indeed. Hamas was born of the Muslim Brotherhood as supposed proof that “Islam is the answer.” Now, it is recognizing its limitations. Perhaps it is mindful of Tunisia’s Ennahdha Party, which wisely realized that it could not be the sovereign or the government, and would be better off sitting in the opposition. But Hamas may prefer the Lebanese example: to operate as Hezbollah does, to the extent possible.

It is a simple idea, at least in theory: Allow the Palestinian Authority to run ongoing affairs in the Gaza Strip, to worry about electricity, water, sewage, social welfare, unemployment, and so on, while making sure that Hamas’s military wing retains all its weaponry.

That way, Hamas continues to be the powerhouse on the ground in the Gaza Strip, while the PA will have to deal with the dreary, thankless day-to-day affairs. For all the support for unity, Hamas officials have said explicitly that they do not intend to give up the “arms of the resistance” — the same term that Hezbollah uses in Lebanon.

There are several key issues of dispute on which the two sides can potentially reach agreement. The problem of the Hamas government officials hired after the 2007 coup — approximately 45,000 of them — can be solved. If both sides are willing, a mechanism can be found (perhaps according to the “Swiss model” once proposed by a Swiss diplomat who visited Gaza a number of times). Close to 20,000 of them are members of the civilian police force, the civil defense force and agencies created to deal with the personal security of Gaza’s inhabitants. The PA could hire them for its official agencies, even though these are already terribly bloated.

Another factor to bear in mind in this regard: the international community’s response. Reconciliation with Hamas, and an agreement that the PA is to pay the salaries of, say, 16,000 to 20,000 members of the security forces who were Hamas officials until moments earlier, would likely cause problems in the transfer of aid to the Palestinian Authority.

The Taylor Force Act, which will limit American aid to the PA due to Abbas’s payments to the families of terrorists, is expected to pass in Congress in December. This may be one of the factors spurring Abbas to accelerate the process of reconciliation.

Also potentially solvable is the issue of a PA presence at the Gaza border crossings. High-ranking Hamas officials have hinted that they would agree to have the PA’s security forces take formal control, and perhaps even deploy along the border with Israel and Egypt. This would lead to the permanent opening of the Rafah Border Crossing and an immediate improvement in the GazaStrip’s economic situation. There would be a great deal of support for such a measure in Washington, and perhaps, to some extent, in Israel too.

During a recent visit to the Gaza border, US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt — who was accompanied by Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the coordinator of government activities in the territories — said that the PA needed to return to the border crossings.

The critical Fatah-Hamas unity question that Israel will be watching carefully — and that may determine the viability and seriousness of any reconciliation agreement — is what will happen to Hamas’s military wing.

Abbas knows very well that an agreement that leaves Hamas’s military wing intact will be a problem — for Israel, the international community, and his own interests — and it is hard to predict whether he would consent to it. In the past, Abbas had set the disarmament of Hamas as a firm prerequisite for any unity deal.

Abbas is also a man not known for easily forgiving his rivals. High-ranking PA officials say that he is not about to rush into the embrace of Hamas in Gaza. There is still profound suspicion between Fatah and Hamas, as well as hard feelings among residents of the West Bank and Gaza toward both groups.

Yet Abbas’s low standing, as reflected in public opinion polls conducted among the Palestinian population in the West Bank, together with near-despair over any peace process prospects, might conceivably lead him to allow the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades to retain its weapons.

One indication that Abbas is pretty serious about unity this time is that the delegation he is sending to Gaza includes PA intelligence chief Majed Faraj, his close associate and confidant. Faraj is a kind of Palestinian combination of Yitzhak Molcho, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal diplomat, and Mossad director Yossi Cohen. It is Faraj, whose rigid and uncompromising policy regarding Hamas is well known, who is to lead the reconciliation process in Gaza.

In the final analysis, Abbas will want to know precisely what Hamas is offering, and is unlikely to rush into an agreement before he knows what the American peace plan will be. If there is to be a genuine reconciliation, it will this probably be a gradual process, unfolding after months of debate over the smallest details of many controversial topics. 

And the devil, as we all know, is in the details.


Article 3

Hamas’ masquerade

Eyal Zisser

Israel Hayom – Oct. 1, 2017

It took Hamas 10 years to completely ruin the Gaza Strip and prove to all that it can’t and is not worthy of ruling over its inhabitants. A decade after the terrorist organization forcefully seized control of the coastal enclave its government has crumbled, but more importantly, the situation for the people of Gaza has never been more desperate. Unemployment and poverty are rampant, quality of life is in sharp decline and infrastructure is collapsing. There has only been steady progress in one area – tunnel digging along the border with Israel is prospering and the group has expanded its missile arsenal.

The first place Hamas has looked for a solution is Tehran, which is looking to bring the group back into its fold after several years of severed ties. The Arab spring revolution in Egypt and Syria distanced Hamas from Iran, bringing it closer to Turkey and even Qatar. These Sunni countries have been a disappointment and their ability to help the organization has been and remains limited. Hamas can only receive unlimited weapons and money from the Iranians, even if doing so means it must sharply alter its positions. This pertains, for example, to the Sunni rebel groups in Syria, which Hamas has supported over the years but now must abandon.

At the same time Hamas is also working to improve its relations with the Palestinian Authority; more precisely it is trying to turn the PA into a human shield to perpetuate its rule over Gaza. In this context, Hamas’ leaders declared an end to the “Hamas government” in Gaza, and their willingness to give the keys to Gaza to the Palestinian national unity government sitting in Ramallah. This is merely a charade, however, as Hamas is unwilling to truly relinquish its power and will not allow, for instance, the PA’s security apparatus to deploy in Gaza. In this vein, it will permit the PA and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, to resolve the electricity crisis in Gaza and to try improving the economic situation there. Meanwhile, Hamas will still reserve ultimate say in Gaza and will be the only entity with weapons.

The Hezbollah Model: Women wave one Lebanese national flag amid Hezbollah flags and portraits of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (R) and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, in the southern Lebanese town of Bint Jbeil in August 2016. (AFP Photo/Mahmoud Zayyat)

Hamas, therefore, is trying to mimic the Lebanese model. In Lebanon, the government maintains diplomatic relations with the international community and is responsible for the welfare of the population and bettering the economy; Hezbollah, meanwhile, is the driving military force without bearing governmental responsibility for the fate of Lebanon. This is a comfortable arrangement, as the Lebanese government provides protection for Hezbollah and mainly absolves it of any responsibility for the Lebanese population.

Abbas does have reasons to be happy with this arrangement, as it means the economic pressure and sanctions he has imposed on Hamas has borne fruit. Egypt, too, is satisfied and continues to advance Palestinian reconciliation, in the hopes that such a development will empower its protégé, Mohammed Dahlan, in Gaza and perhaps the West Bank as well.

Exiled Gaza Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan (centre) meets other Fatah leader last February in Egypt – where he is viewed as Cairo’s key Palestinian protégé. 

Without a doubt, however, the main winner is Hamas, which will cede governmental responsibility for the economy and welfare, which it never cared for regardless, in exchange for a security blanket from the PA and perhaps Egypt. All the while it will continue ruling the Strip with an iron fist.

Hamas’ game is obvious, but its decision to pursue a two-pronged course of reconciliation with the PA and Iran poses a challenge to Israel. During Operation Protective Edge, Israel allowed Hamas to remain in power in Gaza because it believed that doing so would render it deterred and restricted. Now, however, Hamas is trying to shed these restrictions and essentially erase Israel’s leverage against it. Israel cannot allow this to happen.


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