WRITING FROM STEADFAST GAZA
الخميس, 22 حزيران (يونيو), 2017
"I write from steadfast and besieged Gaza which is suffering what human beings cannot endure," writes Hani al-Masri on www.masarat.ps.
It was my good fortune that I arrived in Gaza shortly after the Hamas delegation headed by Yahiya as-Sinwar returned from a visit to Cairo that lasted nine days, and which, according to many sources, is expected to have better prospects of success than its predecessors. This is evident from the optimistic talk of the imminent flow of hundreds-of-thousands of liters of fuel from Egypt, as well as the unprecedented meetings that were held on the margins of the visit between the Hamas delegation and a delegation headed by Mohammad Dahlan that ended in understandings that will begin to be implemented in the coming days.
But what has happened to bring about this ease in Hamas/Egyptian relations after Trump had declared Hamas to be a terrorist organization from the podium at Riyadh?
What happened may be explained by reference to Hamas' need to ease the growing pressures it has been facing as a result of recent developments, especially after the Gulf crisis between Qatar and a number of Arab Gulf countries plus Egypt, and after the worsening livelihood crises in the Gaza Strip. And these crises have reached a point where that they now seem to be heading either towards an internal explosion, or to a war with Israel that neither side wants (at least for now), or to Hamas rushing towards Iran as its last option.
So much for Hamas' reasons. For its part, Egypt needs Hamas's cooperation if it is to secure its borders with the Strip and ensure that takfiri jihadis do not infiltrate into and out of Sinai.
What is new this time around is that Hamas has a new command under Yahiya as-Sinwar, who is the movement's leader in the Strip. This leadership has decided to ease the tension in relations with Egypt at whatever price, but without losing Qatar or Turkey, and without slamming the door in the face of improved relations with Iran. True, this may be difficult if not impossible to achieve; but because of the 'dictatorship' of geography and its limited options, Hamas's priority remains to improve relations with Egypt. And as for Egypt, its aim is to seal the security gap with the Strip and distance Hamas from the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar, Turkey, and Iran.
Sinwar met with Dahlan on the margins of the Hamas delegation's Cairo visit. What led to this meeting, which seems akin to eating a dead man's flesh? The two sides were forced to meet because their growing hostility to President Mahmoud 'Abbas has provided them with a very significant common interest. In other words, neither Hamas nor Dahlan have any other course open to them. Hamas no longer has any other option after Abu Mazin's plan regarding the Gaza Strip that aims to bring Hamas to its knees and subdue it by tightening the siege and imposing gradually escalating sanctions on it. The aim is to drive the Strip to rebel against Hamas' authority if it rejects the president's demands; since if Hamas refuses to submit, it alone will bear the responsibility for what may happen.
As its leaders say, Hamas would have preferred to reach an agreement with Fatah and the president; and it still has some lingering hope that something like that may happen, because while the president is an opponent, Dahlan is an enemy. However, the [PA] plan to tighten the siege on the Strip has left no room for reconciliation; therefore, there is no alternative but to head for the impossible, even if it entails a reconciliation between Hamas and Dahlan.
Hamas's new leader in the Gaza Strip has taken some positive initiatives including a solution for the [Gaza-based] Aqsa University based on the PA's preconditions; but the PA did not respond to this gesture in kind. He has also encouraged mediators to contact the president, but without eliciting a response; on the contrary, there has been an insistence on clinging to the 'either/or" plan. The ultimate response was deeply influenced by the outbreak of the Gulf crisis, although it had been debated for many months.
As for Dahlan, Hamas's responsiveness to his offer was akin to a lifeline. For together with his group, he is still savoring the bitter taste of being ostracized from Fatah, which held its Seventh Conference [in November 2106] without his group, and despite the backing Dahlan received from the Arab Quartet [Egypt/Saudi Arabia/UAE/Jordan]. He sought to convince Hamas to accept his offer some time ago, but it continued to waver, as evident from the fact that Sinwar had told many people with whom he met over the past months that he has an offer – without initially saying what it was, but later confirming that was from Dahlan – that could ensure an end or an ease to the Strip's crises. But he added that he prefers to reach an agreement with Abu Mazin, even if on worse terms, bearing in mind that the fixed principle in all of this is that any offer or agreement between Hamas and any other party should not harm the movement's sources of power – especially its security and arms – and its control of the Strip.
What are these understandings, and what are the chances of them being implemented? According to various sources, they include:
- First, launching the activities of the Commission for Social Solidarity, which was formed many years ago, and that includes the representatives of many factions, as well as Hamas and Dahlan's wing. The Commission is to begin its activities within a few days with a budget of two-million dollars.
- Second, launching the societal reconciliations that aim to resolve the residual effects of the fighting between the two groups [Fatah and Hamas] by paying 'blood money' to the appropriate parties, and to compensate the wounded, the handicapped, and those who have suffered harm. The cost ranges between $50 million and $150 million.
- Third, backing programs that target the youth.
- Fourth, and finally, calling on the PLC (Palestinian Legislative Council) to meet with the participation of [Hamas's] Change and Reform Bloc and Dahlan's bloc, that includes at least 14 members, as well as all the other factions who agree to meet, which would secure a quorum. And a debate is underway regarding the possibility of choosing a PLC Speaker and Bureau, which can be formed out of members of the Change and Reform Bloc.
Sharing the Gaza Strip's administration will then be open to discussion, assuming that the understandings are implemented as intended. In this instance, Dahlan's wing would take part in administering the Strip. Moreover, if this does not open the way to national unity, the situation may lead to stripping the PA president of his legitimacy. In this case, the president may respond, or may preempt such a move by disbanding the PLC via the Constitutional Court that was formed precisely for this purpose. Moreover, the president has the 'Trump card' since the U.S. president may act to prevent Hamas's rescue. Furthermore, the PA's intervention to block monies from reaching the Strip to pay for the Egyptian fuel as agreed, makes it clear that matters may not be as smooth as some believe.
The situation is open to a number of possibilities, of course. The understandings may start, while their ceiling and end may be confined to livelihood and social issues, aiming to resolve or lessen the effects of the crisis at best, in the hope that this would drive the president to halt the implementation of his punitive plan. But the situation may also develop into an understanding on the Strip's administration. And this could motivate Fatah and the president to open the door to reconciliation with Hamas in an attempt to block the path to Dahlan's return via Hamas and the Strip's window.
This is where Dahlan's role emerges. He wants these understandings to open the door to his forceful return by ensuring that he is acknowledged as a major player in the Strip. Dahlan, after all, does not run a charity that is meant to resolve people's livelihood crises or extract Hamas from its crisis; he is searching for a political role. Moreover, these understandings may be implemented and may develop, reaching the point of an alliance with an effort to expand it to focus on participating in Gaza's administration, especially since separating the Strip from the West Bank is Israel's preferred scenario that the world at large seems willing to live with on the assumption that that is the best available option.
One thing remains, namely, to explain Egypt's position, especially due to its concern to maintain a distance from the Dahlan/Hamas understandings. One may explain this by reference to Egypt's determination to put an end to its security agony stemming from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, and by reference to its refusal to encourage the PA's president's plan for Gaza. For Egypt was apparently not consulted about that plan; or, there may have been some consultation but without Cairo encouraging the plan. For, like Israel, Egypt does not want the situation in Gaza to reach the point of explosion, which will erupt in both or one of its neighbor's face. It wants to keep the PA, led by Abu Mazin, in place as the recognized legitimacy. Moreover, and in the medium and long-term, Egypt can achieve tangible gains if Hamas were to distance itself from the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar and Turkey, and if it does not return to its former alliance with Iran.
Will this visit inaugurate a new era for Hamas in its relations with Egypt and with Dahlan? Or will it open the way to [Palestinian] national unity? Or is it a mere temporary ease in the tension?
Everything is possible, and that in itself is something new. It all depends on the extent and speed with which what was agreed upon with Egypt can be implemented, especially if fuel flows into Gaza and the Rafah crossing is opened after the 'Id [end of Ramadan festival] in a manner different to what used to happen in the past. It also depends on the extent and speed with which the understanding between Hamas and Dahlan is implemented, and absence of insurmountable obstacles.
Furthermore, the possibility of speeding up the march towards separation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip remains, because this is an Israeli policy backed by the U.S. and about which the international community is keeping silent. In fact, this will become more than likely, especially if the conflicting Palestinian parties remain wedded to intransigence, action, and reaction.
"Anyway, the coming days and weeks, and at most the coming few months, will bear the final answers to these questions," concludes Masri.