By Herb Keinon
Last May Hamas unveiled a policy document that nominally softened its antisemitic positions while still calling for the “complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea.”
From Israel’s point of view, what was interesting about that document was not what was in it – because the organization did not alter its ideology – but rather that Hamas felt compelled to issue it. It was widely viewed in Jerusalem as the terrorist organization’s effort to improve its standing both in the Arab world and with certain elements of the international community.
That Hamas issued this document was interpreted as a sign of how bad it was hurting. It took a major beating in the 2014 war, living conditions inside Gaza were dire, Egypt had turned against it, and its traditional sponsors – Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar and Turkey – all had major problems of their own. Hamas felt that one way to perhaps improve its position was to issue what might be perceived to be a new charter.
The same can now be said – and actually is being said – about the Fatah-Hamas accord that was signed in Cairo. As Intelligence Minister Israel Katz put it on Thursday, the agreement is “but a convenient cover for Hamas’s continued existence and activity as a terrorist organization while relinquishing civilian responsibility for the Gaza Strip, which deteriorated badly under its brutal rule.”
In other words, if Hamas were not reeling, it would not have reached this agreement with Fatah.
And Hamas is reeling. Gaza is falling apart, Hamas’s patrons Qatar and Turkey do not have the same clout as they did a few years back, Egypt wants to clip its wings, and other Sunni Arab states – understanding that there can be no progress on the diplomatic front if the Palestinian political entity is bifurcated – have pressed the Palestinian Authority to take economic steps to regain control of the Gaza Strip.
Ten years after Hamas militarily defeated Fatah and took control of the Gaza Strip, the two factions are not uniting because of any new-found common ground, but rather because after a disastrous decadelong run, Hamas is trying to retain whatever it can before losing everything.
And the most important thing it wants to retain is its arms. Which is why this particular issue has been pushed off to another day, as PA President Mahmoud Abbas has said that relinquishing them is necessary, and Hamas has countered that this is out of the question.
Hamas, however, cannot give up its arms, just as Hezbollah in Lebanon cannot give up its arms and place itself under the authority of the Lebanese government. For either organization to do so would mean a loss of its raison d’etre. In fact, what Hamas is aiming for is the Lebanese model: Let Fatah collect the garbage and be the face for the international community, while Hamas will accumulate missiles and burrow terror tunnels.
Ten years ago Hamas had hoped to both administer Gaza and to acquire the missiles and dig the tunnels. Today it realizes that this is impossible, so it is giving up the administering Gaza part of the equation.
Jerusalem will now be faced with the question of how to act – toward both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority – if Hamas goes ahead and continues to arm and both plan and carry out attacks against Israel. One thing is certain: Israel cannot tolerate a replica of Lebanon in Gaza.