Just one day after Palestinian leaders hailed the burial of their seven-year feud under a new power-sharing government on June 2, Hamas leaders in Gaza City declared, disingenuously, that it had handed governing authority in the Gaza Strip to the unity government of Ramallah.
Hamas’ Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh resigned, summing his action up in this loaded sentence: “We [Hamas] leave the government but stay in power … we give up the chair but not the role we play.”
The Hamas leader clearly spoke from a position of strength. His movement was stepping aside but not relinquishing power.
The patching-up of the feud between the radical Hamas and its rival Fatah is a multidimensional story, whose immediate applications all portend an uptick in Hamas’ power.
1. Hamas’ political institutions have not changed their spots and will continue to promote their fundamental tenets irrespective of their role in the new government in Ramallah.
2. Under the new order, Hamas will continue to command and control its military, security and intelligence forces of 20,000 men. Those frameworks will not be dismantled or defer to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and certainly not to the new Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.
Hamas is not even going through the motions of detaching a token number to Ramallah’s control.
Hamas keeps control of border crossings
3. In every previous Fatah-Hamas draft agreement, the supervision of border crossings between Gaza, Israel and Egypt was assigned to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah and members of the presidential guard. Not this time: Under their unity accord, the Hamas border administration remains in charge of the Gaza Strip’s international borders with Israel and Egypt and retains control of official crossings, including the Gaza port terminal.
It is not clear who will determine relations with the Palestinians’ opposite numbers, the Israelis and Egyptians manning the other halves of the crossings – whether Hamas or Ramallah. But the strong Hamas presence at these sensitive points gives Hamas the upper hand – although it quickly ran into a major obstacle.
Citing an Egyptian commitment to re-open the Rafah crossing as soon as the new Palestinian government was installed, Hamas came in for a cold shower from Cairo, which made it clear that the crossing would stay shut.
4. Hamas took full advantage of its seven autonomous years of rule in the Gaza Strip to pad public sector offices with no less than 50,000 of its adherents. Their payroll was covered by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. They are unlikely to be sacked en masse and so continue to dominate everyday life in the territory.
5. Hamas likewise plans to continue to develop its military industry, which turns out M-75 missiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. This is a violation of Abu Mazen’s pledge to Washington that the new government would embrace the principle of Palestinian demilitarization.
6. Smuggling networks will also continue to run arms to Hamas in Gaza from Iran, Libya, Hizballah and the Sinai Peninsula.
Once through the door to Ramallah, Hamas will not be pushed out
DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence sources warn that Hamas’s grip on the Palestinian territories could grow to become like Hizballah’s powerful stranglehold on Lebanon. Just as the Lebanese group’s might far surpasses that of the Lebanese Army, so too Hamas’ military muscle is far superior in strength and training to the Palestinian security battalions in the West Bank.
Hamas’s forces are armed with heavy weapons, like surface, anti-air and anti-tank missiles and rockets, unlike their West Bank counterparts. And just as Hizballah holds sway over whole regions of Lebanon, – the South, sections of southern Beirut, and the Beqaa Valley, Hamas’ access to the Mediterranean from Gaza is a crucial strategic asset.
Hamas and Hizballah use the same epithets to justify their war on terror, claiming “resistance” is their bounden duty in answer to Israeli “aggression.”
Hamas’ decision to make up its quarrel with Fatah and share power in a new government did not come from a spontaneous outburst of good fellowship. Following the Hizballah script, the Palestinian Islamists took a well-calculated step to open the door for its well-organized political, military and intelligence establishments to gradually move in and take over the Palestinian Authority’s organs, including the supreme ruling bodies of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
Once through the door the Americans and Europeans opened for them in Ramallah, Hamas will be very hard indeed to push out.