Hamas could be moderated by entering the mainstream, internationally acceptable Palestinian government. Or it could follow the Hezbollah model and slowly reverse Abbas’s legacy.
The Hamas-Fatah reconciliation is either the end of days, or the dawn over new horizons. The deal is so confusing because it might mean one thing – or else the opposite. Here are some of the polarized possible outcomes:
1. Fatah will become one with terrorists, OR terrorists were just co-opted by a more moderate political leadership.
Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Liberman look at this as Hamas spreading its terrorist stain over Palestinian politics. They probably fear the example of Hezbollah, which first took part in Lebanon’s elections in 1992, and went on to redefine the country.
The other perspective involves Sinn Fein the political wing of the Irish Republican Army, a terrorist organization. Sinn Fein became a signatory to the Good Friday peace agreement of Northern Ireland. The IRA laid down its arms for the sake of the accords.
Either option is a reality. But unlike Hezbollah, Hamas is not as directly dominated by other states. It is more accountable to its own people.
2. Hamas will get stronger, OR Hamas will get weaker.
The accord came about in part because Hamas was already weakened: opposing Assad for the slaughter in Syria angered Iran, Assad’s patron, and led to a slump in Iranian support for Hamas. Then the group lost its Egyptian patron, Mohammed Morsi, to Tahrir. Tunnels to Egypt closed, gas prices in Gaza soared and desperation grew. The political division is top priority among Palestinians. Hamas’ legitimacy was both eroded and limited.
Hamas surely thinks the move will make it more popular. But popular for what? Not for further isolation and bad alliances. Hamas seems to have concluded that it would be rewarded for political pragmatism, advancing elections, unifying Palestinians around the Fatah agenda of an independent Palestinian state within broad 1967 lines, through diplomacy not arms.
So Hamas as a political force might get stronger. But the meaning of Hamas – what it has been up to now – will probably get weaker.
3. Iran will have even more direct influence, OR less.
Meir Javedanfar, an Iran expert who lectures at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, explains that since the Hamas/Iran slowdown, Iran’s support has been partly, tentatively restored. “The relationship is nothing like what it was before.” he told +972 in an interview. “After the deal with the PLO, Hamas may decide they don’t need Iran anymore.” For that reason, said Javedanfar, “[the deal] is a golden opportunity for Israel to pull Hamas even further away from Iran.” Israel, of course, would only reward Hamas if it accepts the Quartet’s three main conditions: recognition of Israel, renouncing violence, and accepting all prior agreements. According to Munib al-Masri, a Palestinian businessman who helped negotiate the deal, that’s exactly what the reconciliation with the PLO and Fatah means, even if not said explicitly.
Javedanfar was blunt about the consequences for Iran: “if you really want to kick them in the feet, you bring Hamas away from Iran.” Then, he said, the only remaining Iranian proxy in Palestine is Islamic Jihad. “After all the years and billions of dollars of Iranian money, that’s all they have to show for it in Palestine.”
4. Israel has a better partner, OR Israel has no partner.
For years, Israel has been saying it has no partner, and the heart of that argument was the political division. Now that argument is severely curtailed. Further, the political unity deal can symbolize the short but growing list of indicators that Hamas accepts a 1967-line based Palestine. I’ve argued that it’s no use waiting for grand declarations and fanfare – but that if we wish to see the signs of change, there are some.
Here’s another example of a sovereign that didn’t want to accept pragmatic changes among its extremist enemies. In the late 1990s the guerilla/terrorist Kosovo Liberation Army and the politically moderate Democratic League of Kosovo were rivals. But when invited to negotiations with Milosevic that might have avoided international intervention, they went together. The delegation managed to agree on a deal to redesign relations with Serbia and avoid war. The sovereign state, Yugoslavia/Serbia refused. The resulting intervention devastated the remainder of Yugoslavia and Serbia lost all of its beloved Kosovo, forever. Not Israel’s first choice.
5. The deal is good for Palestinians, OR terrible for Palestinians.
It’s a safe bet that the large majority of Palestinians are supportive. The rift is their top problem (see, for example, page 4 here). They have been disappointed by previous deals that failed. This one stipulates that elections are to be held in six months, putting the democratic process, frozen since 2006, within reach. Elections make statehood look, feel and become more real.
Secular liberal Palestinians probably harbor concerns about increased Hamas influence in their society, and with good reason. But holding free and fair elections are good for political legitimacy and public buy-in. Participation equals building, building gives hope, and hope encourages people to struggle and demand the society they desire.
Unless the elections are marred, for example, by banning who can run or who can vote. One of Israel’s first moves today was to threaten not to allow elections in East Jerusalem, according to Haaretz (Channel 2 reported that the threat relates to the whole West Bank).
But the more Palestine behaves like a state, internationally and institutionally, the more absurd it becomes for Israel to intervene in its internal affairs. While Israel still fancies itself master of its puppets, the Palestinians are playing a whole different game: of empowerment, self-determination, independence. Those are tough values to reject these days. When the world inevitably tips toward their perspective, the idea of foreign intervention in Palestine’s electoral affairs becomes anathema. Say hello to the future fodder for rage against Israel.
After so many false starts, this time is different. The reconciliation and unity government is a turning point for a Palestine that is not crying victimhood, but is gaining momentum and calling the shots. Consolidating the Palestinian vision gives them a greater chance of achieving it. Wasting energy in frantic struggles to respond, Israel is destined to fall behind.
Correction appended: An earlier version mistakenly referred to Hezbollah as a “foreign implant” in Lebanon. The intention was that Hezbollah is directly controlled, financed and backed by other states, as it appears above.