Hamas sent its rivals, Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah, packing from the Gaza Strip in June 2007 in a well organized violent putsch, just 22 months after Israel unilaterally disengaged from the territory in September 2005. Since then, the fundamentalist Hamas has ruled Gaza with an iron hand through its military wing, the Izz e-Din al-Qassam Brigades.
Now, the guessing is on among intelligence experts over how long it will take Hamas to climb over its new reconciliation pact with Fatah to overthrow Abbas (Abu Mazen) in the West Bank too.
Their agreement to share power in a government of non-partisan experts and hold presidential and parliamentary elections is not expected to inhibit Hamas when it decides to seize power in Ramallah.
Seven years ago, President George W. Bush and his Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice leaned heavily on Israel to allow the 2006 Palestinian general election to take place with Hamas’s participation – as a boost to Palestinian democracy.
Unsurprisingly, Hamas trounced Fatah and took a clear majority in the Palestinian Parliament, which has been paralyzed ever since.
Both US and Israel are disingenuous
US intervention then was direct and undisguised. Today, the Obama administration is using its muscle indirectly to suggest that Israel would be mistaken in viewing the Fatah-Hamas pact as an obstacle to peace negotiations.
Washington offers Israel all the words it wants to hear: The US won’t recognize a Palestinian government associated with, or including, Hamas representatives; US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power promised on April 29 that aid funds would be withheld from a Palestinian government shared by Abu Mazen and Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh.
Yet the administration also allows publicly and behind closed doors that the Fatah-Hamas partnership may not spell the end of peace talks, but rather move them forward. After all, Israel has often complained that Abbas only talks for half of the Palestinian people so long as the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are divided.
The truth, accordingly to DEBKA Weekly’s Washington and Jerusalem sources, is that Washington and Jerusalem are both disingenuous about their intentions.
Kerry’s damaging apartheid remark was no slip of the tongue
In that sense, US Secretary of State John Kerry’s remark that without a two-state solution for the Palestinian issue, Israel will become an apartheid state, which gained wide publicity on April 27, Holocaust Remembrance Day, was no slip of the tongue: It was a jab at Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for suspending the negotiations in retaliation for the Palestinian reconciliation pact.
On April 29, Kerry quickly backed away from his remark. But the damage was done. Abu Mazen sneered that it wasn’t he who labeled Israel an apartheid state. He didn’t have to.
But that was only part of the show. Behind the scenes, the Obama administration is bent on salvaging the peace process by quietly squeezing Israel, directly and via the Europeans, to be realistic and accept Abbas’ plan for a government of nonpartisan technocrats. It is obvious to both sides that this government would be the screen behind which Hamas and Fatah would build close ties between Ramallah and Gaza.
Netanyahu is playing his part by not following through on the sanctions he announced against the Palestinian Authority for tying itself to a terrorist organization committed to Israel’s destruction.
He made sure that the penalties approved by Israel’s foreign affairs and security cabinet last week were fairly toothless – a sign that he is about to work with the Obama administration.
So what next?
Intelligence analysts postulate the following working hypotheses for the coming events in the West Bank and Gaza:
1. The US-sponsored Israel-Palestinian peace talks in their current form have been kicked off track for the foreseeable future.
2. This time, the Palestinian reconciliation pact has a better chance of survival than the previous seven attempts and parts thereof may even be implemented.
3. The door has opened for Hamas penetration of the West Bank in force. The deeper the penetration, the faster Abu Mazen, his Fatah and the Palestinian Liberation Organization, will lose strength. For months now, Palestinian security forces have refrained from action against clandestine Hamas terrorist cells taking root on the West Bank.
Wednesday, April 30, a Hamas cell of nine Palestinians and one Israeli Arab was rounded up by Israeli security forces in Qalqilyah. They were caught improvising explosive devices for attacks on Israeli targets.
4. Some officials in Washington and Europe suggest that the Netanyahu government will not lift a finger to contain Hamas’ political takeover of the West Bank, on the grounds that it lets Israel off the hook of the understandings for surrendering territory reached with Abbas.
A Hamas coup to unseat Mahmoud Abbas?
5. Abu Mazen’s rule in the West Bank is propped up by seven battalions of Palestinian special forces, trained by the Americans, British, and Canadians and operating in coordination with Israel.
These forces count heavily on the flow of intelligence from Israel to function effectively.
West Bank watchers predict a decline in these battalions’ coordination with Israel and their reduced efficiency, the result of a wave of defections to Hamas, a process analogous to the desertions of Western-trained Iraqi and Afghani security officers to al Qaeda and Taliban.
6. This shift is expected to generate one of two possible scenarios: A dominant Palestinian special forces or intelligence figure will appear on the scene in a military coup to unseat Mahmoud Abbas and seize the government in Ramallah, a repetition of the June 2007 putsch in Gaza.
Alternatively, Hamas and Fatah will fight it out for control of the West Bank.
As matters stand at present, neither the US, nor Israel or Jordan would interfere.