September 21, 2017
TSC IntelBrief: Egypt and Hamas
After more than a decade of paralysis and infighting, there appears to be some progress in talks between the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank and Hamas, which has run Gaza for more than a decade. The violent split between the two factions has resulted in a decaying status quo for the impoverished people of Gaza, who live under crushing restrictions in one of the most densely-packed population centers on earth.
On September 17, Hamas announced it had dissolved the administration through which it has managed Gaza for more than a decade. Hamas also agreed to hold general elections in Gaza, the last of which saw it come to power in 2006. The split between Hamas and the PA has been marked by violence, with street fighting in 2007 followed by a decade of simmering tensions and several short but exceedingly costly wars between Hamas and Israel. While the quest for Palestinian ‘national unity’ may seem quixotic, with endless rounds of back-and-forth between leaders while the Palestinian people continue to suffer, any concrete step towards reconciliation is a positive development that deserves strong international support.
The geopolitics of the Hamas-Fatah conflict and the episodic leverage hosting Hamas has provided its various benefactors or supporters (at times including Egypt, Qatar, Syria, Iran, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia) highlights how complicated the issues are for all involved. Egypt has always been central to talks between the PA and Hamas. While the Sisi government views the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization when it comes to domestic politics post-Morsi (the former President was just sentenced to a 20-year prison term), Cairo knows it must work with Hamas, which considers itself part of the Brotherhood, for the sake of both internal and regional stability. And so Egypt, which joined Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in criticizing Qatar for granting Hamas a permanent office in Doha has now done the same, allowing Hamas to open a permanent security office in Cairo.
It is unclear how much longer PA president Mahmoud Abbas will remain in power, with some reports that Mohammed Dahlan (heavily funded by the UAE), a bitter rival of both Abbas and Hamas, might be a possible successor. Meanwhile, new Hamas leadership may offer a chance for some positive momentum in the long-stalled Palestinian unity process. In Gaza, Hamas’ Prime Minister Yahya Sinwar has proven more pragmatic than expected, saying the split with the PA was ‘suicide’ for any hopes of Palestinian liberation. By dissolving its administration, Hamas hopes to ease increasingly intolerable living conditions inside Gaza, including persistent power outages. A reconciliation government would be in a better position to work with both Egypt and Israel to lift the Gaza blockade and make meaningful improvements to the lives of some 1.8 million Palestinians, caught between abysmal leadership and regional fighting for more than a decade.
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