Hell’s Union : William Mehlman


If the proposed shotgun marriage (aka the “reconciliation agreement”) between a Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority famed for its largesse to murderers of Israelis and a Gaza City-ensconced Hamas terror organization pledged to Israel’s extinction is ever consummated, Rosemary’s Baby is likely to be the only fruit its loins are capable of producing.  The Jewish State will, of course, be charged with its breast-feeding.

The union is still pretty much a 50-50 bet at this writing as the partners prepare for a November 21st meeting in Cairo to put the “finishing touches” on a deal that would purportedly clear the way for the PA to set up shop again in a Gaza peninsula from which it was driven in 2007.  PA President Mahmoud Abbas, his token prime minister Rami Hamdallah and Hamas’ strongmen Ismail Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar will be tasked with formally establishing the new Palestinian unity government and setting a date for general elections.

The devil, of course lurks in those “final touches.” The touchiest of them is Abbas’ warning that there will be no reconciliation unless and until Hamas’ 27,000 man Izzedin al-Qassam Brigade is disbanded and every last gun and rocket in its arsenal surrendered to the new central authority.  Abbas says he will not tolerate anything like Hezbollah’s gun-slinging arrangement with a castrated Lebanon.  “Is my Arabic clear on this?” he declared in an interview with Egypt’s CBC TV news service.  “One state, one government , one gun.”

That’s not all Abbas is demanding of Hamas in down payment for this Egyptian-brokered deal he’s demonstrably less than enthusiastic about.  Inter alia, he wants unfettered control over the border crossings into Egypt and Israel, the firing of 43,000 Hamas-appointed government employees and their replacement by 10,000 PA loyalists ousted in the 2007 coup.  Already in his pocket is the termination of the short life of Hamas’ quasi-governmental “Administrative Committee.” It was this attempt at the creation of a shadow government that sparked the PA’s cutoff of further payments to Israel of Hamas’ electricity bills, its slashing of unemployment compensation to the peninsula’s municipal workers, the reduction of payments to Hamas prisoners residing in Israeli jails and the reduction of medical supply shipments.

These Hamas concessions notwithstanding, “after years of failed attempts at reconciliation,” Avi Issacharov observes in the Times of Israel, “Abbas appears profoundly skeptical about the possibility of true national unity.” His Cairo TV interview is suffused with ambivalence.  “It’s not certain there will be elections,” he told his interrogator, “or that even the establishment of a state will be soon.  We don’t deceive each other or sell illusions to anyone.  The issue is difficult.“ Issacharov characterized that as a “surprising remark for the leader who tells the Palestinians at every opportunity that the establishment of a state of their own is imminent.” It may reflect what Hillel Frisch, Senior Fellow at the new conservative-oriented Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies calls Abbas’ awakening to “the bitter zero sum game” into which he’s ventured.  “Only a showdown can decide between Hamas and Fatah [the PA’s political arm],” Frisch submits, “with one side totally victorious and the other totally defeated and it’s doubtful Fatah can muster the strength to make a bid for true power in Gaza.”

Nor will either side “be able to bridge the ideological divide or be able to forget their blood-soaked history anytime soon,” avers Grant Rumley in an Atlantic piece headlined “The Doomed Palestinian Reconciliation Plan.” “The reality is that Hamas is unlikely ever to give up its military control over Gaza.  The faction wants Abbas to pay for the cost of governing.  Abbas wants acquiescence and disarmament.  Ultimately, there’s no middle ground…”

In fact, the only thing Fatah and Hamas have in common is their mutual interest in the disappearance of Israel.  It is only on the path to that holy grail that they differ.  Hamas’ choice remains, as always, military confrontation aided and abetted by its Iranian and Hezbollah allies.  But the exorbitant expenditures on weapons, tunnel construction and the care and feeding of a 27,000-man fighting force in pursuit of that objective has put Gaza’s economy in meltdown.  Unemployment is running at 40 percent, electricity, supplied by Israel and currently being paid for by Egypt, is limited to five hours a day, overpumped aquifers, seeping salt, have created a dire shortage of drinkable water, sanitation and health services are at marginal levels and much of the housing and infrastructure damage incurred in a 2014 rocket war against Israel remains untouched.  Nothing less than the threat of civil insurrection, combined with pressure from Egypt, persuaded Haniyah and Sinwar to concede administrative control of the peninsula to its PA rival under the rubric of “national unity.” Their concept of that phrase, however appears limited to sticking the PA with 2.4 million bitter, largely impoverished and unhoused Arabs – “keeping the books and picking up the garbage,” as one observer put it – while Hamas gears up for another round with Israel.

Under Abbas the PA has been plying the diplomatic route toward a hoped-for unraveling of Israel in “stages.” Without raising an eyebrow over its distribution to terrorists and their families of $345 million of the $693 million in foreign aid it has received thus far in 2017, this stateless wonder has established embassies in dozens of countries and been admitted to membership in the International Criminal Court and Interpol.  If it can find any justification for wading into the Gazan quagmire, it is in creating the façade of a “unified” Palestinian leadership prepared, however grudgingly, to nod acceptance of a Jewish state in its midst as precursor to the revival of two-state discussions.  Hamas may be ready to swallow even that if it can get the administration of Gaza off its back.

The target of all this activity isn’t Benjamin Netanyahu, but Donald Trump.  “The American administration backs this attempt at unity,” avers Ma’ariv’s Ben Caspit, “because it views reconciliation as a significant tailwind behind Trump’s efforts to exhaust diplomatic negotiations.” Indeed, a united Palestinian bow to Israel’s right to a mark on the map of the Middle East demanded by the Quartet – the U.S, EU, UN and Russian working group on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – could put Israel in a tight spot in regard to any such negotiations – totally isolated.  Netanyahu’s virtual silence on the issue until recent weeks comes as no surprise.  When the prime minister spoke against the Iran nuclear agreement before a joint session of Congress in 2015, he was challenging Barak Obama, an adversary.  His “great friend” Donald Trump, hell-bent on making the “deal of the century” is another matter.  “It is difficult for Netanyahu to come out against initiatives backed by Trump,” Caspit asserts.  “Not impossible, but difficult.”

Amplified by Hamas’ appointment of Salah al-Arouri, mastermind of the shocking 2014 murder of three Israeli yeshiva teenagers, as its “reconciliation coordinator,” the prime minister has found his voice.  Addressing a Likud faction meeting in Ma’ale Adumim, Netanyahu said that as part of any Palestinian “reconciliation” acceptable to Israel, Hamas would not only have to dismantle its Izzedin al-Qassam Brigade but dissolve all of its ties, military and political, with Iran.  “We additionally expect anyone who talks about a ‘peace process’ to recognize the State of Israel and, of course, the Jewish State.  We cannot accept fake reconciliation on the Palestinian side that comes at the expense of our existence.”

Figures both within and outside the prime minister’s inner circle were less inclined toward moderation.  Even Donald Trump was not spared as former Likud education minister and prospective Netanyahu rival Gideon Sa’ar informed 26 parliamentarians from 15 countries assembled in Jerusalem for the Israel Allies Foundation’s Chairman’s Conference that “when it’s clear to them [Hamas and the PA] that we are here forever, then we can achieve the ‘ultimate deal.’“ As for Trump’s assertion that he wants a final shot at bringing Israel and the Palestinians together before moving the American embassy to Jerusalem, Sa’ar declared, “he didn’t promise it to us, he promised it to his voters.”

A somewhat less nuanced Security Cabinet minister, Ze’ev Elkin, berated the U.S. president for his reported opposition to the announced expansion of Jewish housing construction in Hebron, Israel’s second holiest city.  “This administration feels comfortable changing the commitments of the Obama government on issues like climate change,” Elkin told Yediot Aharonot, “but for some reason on issues related to us they continue the same outlook that construction over the Green Line is a negative Israeli step.”

Is the White House-Jerusalem honeymoon on the wane? We won’t really know until Donald Trump’s “final shot” at an Israeli-Palestinian peace pact is discharged.  The result of that effort will be inextricably linked to the fate of a Fatah-Hamas union whose overwhelming absence of affection can probably be counted on to undermine even its most compelling political convenience.  To borrow a signature Trumpian phrase, “we shall have to see.”


William Mehlman represents AFSI in Israel.

Haniyeh and Aro


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March 2018
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