Amid a volley of rockets fired by Hamas from the Gaza strip, Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations broke down completely on Tuesday. It is not hard to see why: The strategic issues that the war was fought over have not been resolved, and apparently neither side was backing down. Furthermore, two stories broke recently about ways that the noose around Hamas’ neck was tightening in negotiations—ways that will also make it even harder for the terrorist network to prevail in this round of fighting. First, Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, revealed that it had disrupted a Hamas plan to topple the Palestinian Authority. The Jerusalem Post reports:
A large-scale Hamas terrorist formation in the West Bank and Jerusalem planned to destabilize the region through a series of deadly terrorist attacks in Israel and then topple the Fatah-ruled Palestinian Authority, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) said Monday…
The plot was orchestrated by overseas Hamas operatives headquartered in Turkey and centered on a string of mass-casualty terrorist attacks on Israeli targets, the Shin Bet added.
The end goal was to destabilize the Palestinian territories and use the instability to carry out a military coup, overthrowing the government of PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas called the revelations “a grave threat to the unity of the Palestinian people and its future.” He’s not wrong—and that may be the point of the announcement. The underlying Hamas-PA conflict is very real to begin with, as the plot shows, but by bringing it out into the open, Israel ratchets up the pressure on Hamas.
Already, the Egyptians and Saudis stand more or less openly against the Gazan terrorist group, as it is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, mortal enemy to Eygpt’s military government. Egypt would prefer to crush Hamas completely and replace it with the PA. While in theory that would suit Israel, the problem had been that the PA could not assume authority without being seen as cooperating with the Israelis, thus losing all credibility with Gazans. Perhaps Israel’s revelation of Hamas’s plot is designed to give the PA room to maneuver against its rival.
Even before that revelation, furthermore, the Palestinian Authority was being used to put pressure on Hamas, this time from an unexpected quarter: Norway. The European nation, which had been set to lead a “donor’s conference” to rebuild Gaza along with Egypt, had signaled a surprisingly robust anti-Hamas stance regarding the provision of aid:
This is the third time in five years that donors have to support a reconstruction of Gaza, the government said.
“The donors want to send a clear signal that basic conditions in Gaza have to change. Gaza can’t be reconstructed as it was,” said Mr. Brende. “The international society can’t simply be expected to contribute to another reconstruction.”
Mr. Brende said the donors want President Mahmoud Abbas to receive the aid, with his Western-backed government of technocrats responsible for handling the reconstruction of Gaza.
With such aid being offered on Egypt’s preferred anti-Hamas terms, and with no loosening of the blockade in sight from either Cairo or Jerusalem, Hamas’ return to arms makes some sense—except that the same considerations that drove them to the bargaining table still apply. It is still losing militarily, and every day it fires rockets while the blockade is in effect, it comes closer to disarming itself. Neither the Egyptians nor the Israelis will have any incentive to give Gaza a port by Hamas’s losing yet another round of fighting.
Furthermore, the increasing international aversion to the group robs it of its usual trick of winning by losing. European anti-Semitism won’t save Hamas if a powerful coalition of Arabs and Israelis have turned against it and the PA offers a viable alternative.
That last part, though, is the trick—because someone will have to rule Gaza. Let us hope that the Egyptians and Israelis, who seem to be maneuvering well, have an idea for the endgame.