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Thursday, 24 April 2014

Hamas wins, Abbas loses

Hamas is the reconciliation agreement's biggest winner. The Islamist group controlling Gaza is currently facing a severe economic and political crisis, and is unable to meet the needs of the Strip's 1.5 million residents. 

After it turned its back on Syria and Iran, Hamas also lost Egyptian support following the ascent of the current regime there, which views it as an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood and as a group that threatens Egyptian security. As such, General al-Sisi's forces are actively destroying tunnel after tunnel connecting Gaza to Egypt, and only occasionally open the Rafah crossing.

The unity deal signed Wednesday gives Hamas international legitimacy, which could allow it to receive aid and donations to help it extract itself from the crippling crisis threatening both its rule and the wellbeing of Gaza's people. Today, even Turkey and Qatar are fulfilling their pledge of sending aid to Gaza.

But even more importantly for Hamas, the deal makes Abbas the person responsible for the welfare of Gaza's impoverished residents. The PA president is already footing the bill for Gaza's gas stations – Israel, of course, supplies the gas itself. Abbas has also been paying the wages of Fatah-affiliated teachers in Gaza, who have been sitting idle since 2007.

But now Abbas is responsible for everyone. He will have to figure out how to raise funds from the Americans and Europeans – funds that will have to reach Hamas and other Gaza-based institutions.

Another perk for Hamas is that they and other Gaza groups such as Islamic Jihad will be offered membership in the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a move that could allow Hamas to take over the organization that is the legal representation of the Palestinian people. It is important to bear in mind that Abbas derives most of his legitimacy from the fact that he is the leader of the PLO. If Hamas manages to seize power of the organization, it will take on a new, militant tone.

In contrast, Abbas and his Fatah party do not get that much out of this newfound unity. They get brownie points for actually reaching the deal, which is highly popular in the West Bank and the refugee camps. Abbas also gains an additional whip to wave at the Israelis and Americans regarding the renewal of peace talks.

One should note that, despite his statement on the lack of incongruence between the Hamas-Fatah unity and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian talks, if the conditions Abbas recently laid out for extending negotiations with Israel are met, he can still scupper this deal with Hamas just as he has done before.

Conversely, should Israel fail to meet his demands, he can blame them and the Americans for pushing him into the arms of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees. This aside, he has more to lose than to gain.

Abbas has good reason to be displeased with the agreement. He knows that any thaw in ties between him, Hamas and Islamic Jihad will be a cause for concern around the world, specifically in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which are increasingly hostile towards the Muslim Brotherhood and their ilk.

But above all, the deal with Hamas poses a real threat to Fatah's rule in the West Bank. Hamas could take over and drag the West Bank into a violent conflict with Israel, thus exporting the economic turmoil currently plaguing Gaza to the West Bank.,7340,L-4512703,00.html

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