A family warms themselves on a fire outside their makeshift home during a power cut in Khan Younis, southern Gaza. Khalil Hamra | AP
US, Israel Seek to Exploit Palestinian Divisions and Create More of Them
OCCUPIED PALESTINE — (Analysis) This article is not written to support one Palestinian group and/or to criticize another. The writer does not condone Palestinian partisanship and factionalism. The writer strongly believes that this is the time for true open-mindedness and objectivity. The problem at hand is bigger and greater than all Palestinian groups when dealt with separately: the new calm agreement under discussion impacts the Palestinian problem and threatens the Palestinian people in their entirety.
It is no exaggeration to say that concepts such as calm, reconciliation and division have become very burdensome for the Palestinian psyche and that they have started to cause tremendous anxiety and fear. This is because these words carry so much significance for Palestinian life and destiny.
It is also no exaggeration to say that the Palestinian people have become fed up with the repeated back-and-forth discussions about reconciliation and division between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. For the Palestinian people, it seems that priorities other than the Palestinian national interest and the public good have risen to the surface in the past few years, despite the fact that ending the seemingly chronic state of division has been the main demand by the Palestinian people of their leaders all along.
With time, this demand has become a dream. However, now it seems to have been turned into a fantasy, as the credibility of Palestinian factions to end the state of division and arrive at reconciliation has been crushed.
Most Palestinians feel that even in the most difficult times for them, there was always hope for liberation and independence. With the split among Palestinians at the present stage, this goal seems almost impossible, as no real fundamental transformation can be brought about.
Division — be it caused by internal, external, or a mix of reasons — cannot but bring about more Israeli control of, and hegemony over, the Palestinian people. Although it is difficult to speak of rigid fixed rules for how the world of politics operates, one of the absolute basics is that a house united is always stronger, more immune, and a lot more resistant in the face of the many challenges and storms. At the same time, a leaky house does not protect even those who hide in one corner or another.
As every Palestinian continued to be hopeful that the state of division would end and that reconciliation would be achieved, even in the midst of the darkest moments and the most difficult circumstances, the Palestinian problem faces today something more detrimental than even division and the absence of reconciliation: this lies in the legitimization of the state of division and the burial of the idea of reconciliation, once and for all. This may be caused by the looming, deadly, supposed calm on the horizon between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
There is near consensus that the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip is quite catastrophic. All bases for human survival — water, food, fresh air and electricity — have reached record low levels. The United Nations and a number of non-governmental organizations have reported that the current humanitarian situation may cause untold consequences, as it is neither livable nor sustainable.
The whole Gaza Strip has been turned into the largest human prison on earth. This has made the process of teaching and learning, work, acquiring health care, and travel unattainable. It is no exaggeration to say that all human rights in the Gaza Strip have been violated. Friends and foes alike of the Palestinian people recognize that the current state of affairs cannot endure under any circumstances. There is a widespread perception in the world that the Gaza Strip stands at a critical threshold: either all bases for human life collapse completely; or alternatively, the world pretends that it is doing something to ameliorate the humanitarian situation, albeit by using deceptive, twisted political and economic tools that could in fact lead to a worse humanitarian situation in the Strip than the one that exists today.
Enemies of the Palestinian people calculate that the cost of maintaining the current situation seems to exceed, by far, the benefits they might reap by pretending to end the misery. The proposed humanitarian solutions to rescue the Strip from its dilemma are meant to lead the Palestinian people, particularly those who might participate in crafting an agreement in this regard, into a vicious circle.
Sure, those on the frontline need, and certainly deserve, some rest. However, the timing, place for, and the circumstances surrounding any desired rest are of prime importance. Under the current conditions and circumstances — and in light of regional and international pressures, as work on implementing Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” intensifies, even without any formal declaration — a Palestinian-Israeli Agreement for “calm” does not amount to providing the necessary rest, but rather, to falling in the trap of an attempt at marginalizing all forms of resistance to the occupation.
Using the worsening humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip as grounds to justify the arrival at a new calm cannot be separated from the overall context of diabolically trying to put the “deal of the century” into effect. This is no different from using the awful humanitarian situation in the occupied territories as a justification for signing the Oslo Agreement in 1993.
Many Palestinians feel that the regurgitation of a bad experience is worse than trying it again from the start. Failure to learn the lessons of the wasteful and aimless Palestinian-Israeli negotiations that have hurt the Palestinian cause is not just a mistake: rather, it is sinful. The Palestinian problem, in its entirety, is targeted now by some of the most senseless minds. Therefore, caution and precision, in dealing with any political bait in the form of proposed solutions, are in order and required. Caution and precision are national necessities for Palestinians that, if eschewed, can only result in catastrophic consequences exceeding in their magnitude the humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip today.
Critics of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement for calm that might be arrived unilaterally by Hamas remind everyone of the seriously impending dangers surrounding the Palestinian problem on the eve of signing the Oslo agreement. Various different details notwithstanding, the situation then for all Palestinians was not better than the one that exists in Gaza today. The nights and days of Israeli imposed curfews in the occupied Palestinian territories in 1967 still live in Palestinian memory. No Palestinian can forget the impact of the continued clashes with the Israeli occupation army during the Intifada (uprising) of the Stones, as it is called, in 1987.
The suffering of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees in the diaspora due to siege, bombardment and isolation cannot be overlooked. Many Palestinian refugees, especially in Lebanon, were reduced to eating dogs, cats and rats in order to stay alive. Scenes of the waves of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian employees working in the Gulf being expelled with their families following the Gulf Crisis of 1990-91 cannot be erased. This is on top of all the massacres Palestinians have been subjected to since the conflict with the Israeli occupation started.
Critics further argue that if the Oslo agreement had brought the Palestinian people calamity, the new looming agreement for calm on the horizon can be even more dangerous, causing more harm to the steadfast Palestinian people.
The new proposed calm seems to be no more than a renewed Oslo. With renewal, it is expected that the producer will pay more attention to earlier flaws in order to perfect control and oppression of the Palestinian people. The Gaza Strip, which was to come first in the Oslo accords, had witnessed a relative relaxation of tensions in the first couple of years of Oslo: it had a small airport and work was to begin for establishing a port for people to travel in and out of the Strip.
This means that it is not entirely strange for the Israeli occupation to make a promise of lifting the siege off the Strip, allow reconstruction, establish a sea pathway between Gaza and Cyprus, and even to turn Gaza into Singapore of the Arabs today, and then break its promises tomorrow, depending on how Israeli institutions interpret their national interest at a given point in time. There is no deterrent power to prevent the Israeli occupation from breaking its promises. The occupation aims at getting rid of the Palestinians who live in Gaza: the former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin once said unequivocally that his wish was to wake up one morning and find Gaza sunk in the sea.
Those who embrace the new calm may say that they will retaliate by withdrawing from any new agreement if the Israelis break their promises or violate the agreement. However, this is not convincing for most Palestinians, as they consider such a retaliation, if it were to take place, a reactive rather than a proactive measure. The effectiveness of any given action is often measured by its timing. Israelis might find it beneficial to make promises at this stage and to break them at another. It all depends on what their plans are at any given time.
For example, Oslo was an Israeli need at one point, while its abrogation seems to be a necessity now. Israelis needed Oslo to buy more time to help them confiscate more Palestinian land and build more Israeli settlements under the cover of the erroneous peace. In other words, what might seem to be useful today might be harmful tomorrow. Critics warn that no Palestinians should deceive themselves that they can withdraw from the calm whenever they like and when the Israelis decide to sidetrack it. Palestinians have been engulfed in the Oslo swamp for many years and unable to get out of its grip until now.
Why is Israel gasping behind the calm now?
Those who follow the Israeli media closely have no doubt noticed that a number of outlets have tirelessly tried to release some information that made it look like an agreement for calm has been practically reached with Hamas. About two weeks ago some outlets even confirmed that the agreement had become effective. Although there had been no confirmation from the other side, it seems that the Israeli media was interested in preparing Israeli public opinion for what might be coming, in fulfillment of the desires of Israeli leaders, especially in the mini-security cabinet. Never mind all the talk about tense discussions within the mini-security cabinet regarding the viability, utility and content of the calm agreement.
Over the past few months, especially since the start of the weekly Great Marches of Return in the Gaza Strip, one cannot help but detect serious anxiety within Israeli institutions, as they have been trying to repeatedly demonstrate Israeli strength through some airstrikes on Gaza, on the one hand, and to enter into a number of ceasefire understandings, on the other. The bombing in Gaza and entry into ceasefire agreements have been pursued almost in parallel. One could go to sleep with the news of airstrikes on Gaza, and wake up with an announcement for a ceasefire.
This signifies that the Israelis seem to be more interested in arriving at an agreement for calm with Gaza at this stage, rather than in a military confrontation. Assuming this hypothesis is valid, why then would Israel pant for an agreement for calm in the Gaza Strip, specifically at this stage? Ten reasons seem to stand behind Israeli thinking:
1 | Using the suggested agreement for calm as a natural prelude for Trump’s “deal of the century.”
Here, the objective is to use humanitarian and economic considerations to achieve political and legal ends. More specifically, the plan is to promise Palestinians in Gaza some humanitarian relief in exchange for some political concessions. As the saying goes, there is no free lunch.
The Trump administration has blessed the ongoing talks in Cairo between Hamas and Egyptian officials, as well as other Palestinian factions, to broker some deal. The Trump administration is convinced that an agreement for calm is consistent with, and supports its scheme to deal with the Palestinian problem in fragments. It further believes — as has been expressed in statements by Jared Kushner, Trump’s advisor to the president on the Middle East — that some humanitarian cover will have to be used, ostensibly to end the conversation around the future of Palestine by removing all viable options for a future Palestinian state through the deal of the century.
Observers can easily detect the profound paradox in recent U.S. moves: on the one hand, the Trump administration has cut its annual financial contributions to UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, a clearly humanitarian organization; and on the other, the administration has declared that it supports efforts that could lead to the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.
Cutting support to UNRWA has been most detrimental, as it led this UN organization to freeze a good number of its projects, and in the process terminate the employment of hundreds very needy Palestinian workers and staff in the Gaza Strip. As such, imagining a separation between an agreement for calm and the deal of the century is an exercise in daydreaming. All aspects are suspicious: he parallel timing, the content, and the dynamics.
2 | To serve Benjamin Netanyahu personally.
Some might wonder why Netanyahu has succeeded in becoming the longest-serving Israeli prime minister. It is attributable neither to the fact that Netanyahu is a pathological liar nor to any advantage in intelligence compared to others who were in his position before. Certainly, his hostility towards the peace process from the start has boosted his position among radical Israeli rightists. However, it is doubtful that this would be the determining factor that enabled Netanyahu to last so long in office and manage to stand in the way of a viable contender against him, despite the fact that he has been bombarded with allegations of financial and political corruption.
The secret behind Netanyahu’s success, compared to his political foes, can be primarily found in his ability to provide Israelis with more security relative to that provided by other prime ministers, especially since the signing of the Oslo Agreement. In a society where security is paramount, the Israeli voter does not seem to be able to find a more effective leader than Netanyahu, in spite of all his shortcomings.
Accordingly, an agreement for calm in the Gaza Strip very directly serves Netanyahu’s secret of success. It sends a strong message to Israeli society, especially to radical rightist groups. At a time when Netanyahu is quite self-centered on his political and personal ambitions, elevating them over other considerations, and is quite concerned that a military confrontation with the Gaza Strip might have some negative ramifications for his political future, he tries to sound and act tough, while deep inside he wishes for calm. No one would believe that Netanyahu might embark on an agreement for calm out of a good heart towards Palestinians. Certainly, an improved humanitarian life for Palestinians in Gaza is not high on his agenda. Nevertheless, pursuing an agreement for calm with Hamas seems to be his choice at this stage.
3 | Improving Israel’s image in the world.
It is worth remembering here that one of Israel’s main goals for entangling the PLO, and subsequently the Palestinian Authority, in the dark alleys of Oslo was exactly to brighten Israel’s worsening image in the world — especially in the West, where it has many friends — an image deteriorating particularly as a result of Israel’s gruesome crimes against unarmed Palestinian children, men and women during the 1987 Intifada of the Stones.
Scenes of heavily armed Israeli soldiers brutally beating unarmed Palestinians, and breaking their bones had immensely affected the image of the Israeli army as the most disciplined in the world. Mounting official criticism and increasing public protests against Israeli brutality and oppression of the Palestinian people around the world had compelled Israeli occupation institutions to search for an effective, extensive and organized public-relations campaign to show that Israel was peace-loving, and not aggressive or hostile.
In this context, Israel continued to market itself as a power searching for peace and negotiations through Oslo, while at the same time, it continued unabated confiscation of more Palestinian land; building more settlements; and, in every way possible, strengthening the occupation regime throughout all the occupied Palestinian territories.
What mattered to Israel was that it appeared as a power involved in negotiations and peace talks with the Palestinians, so as to alter world public opinion. Of course, most experts know that this marketed picture of Israel was quite deceptive because the negotiations were used only to further solidify the occupation regime. However, Israel succeeded in ending a great deal of the isolation it was experiencing as a result of its practices: once it entered into the Oslo talks, a number of countries in the region and in the world renewed their relations with Tel Aviv.
The timing could not be better now for another, more intensified public-relations campaign to revitalize Israel’s tarnished world image, and most specifically after BDS — boycott, divestment and sanctions — efforts have taken their toll on Israeli products and reputation. Even in countries where Israel has strong friends, BDS has been quite effective. There have been increasing expressions and moves of solidarity with the besieged Gaza Strip over the past few years. Israel has found itself with a dire need to undo its negative image, especially in Western societies.
Some of Tel Aviv’s diplomatic relations have been affected. Israel has also suffered serious economic losses from Palestinian use of fiery paper kites and incendiary balloons against settlements around the Gaza Strip. Netanyahu wants to revive Israeli settler confidence in him as an effective provider of security, especially around the Gaza Strip. Israel’s improving relations with some Arab countries have not compensated for its worsening image in and relations with friendly Western countries.
Therefore, Israel believes that pretending that it is trying hard for calm with the Gaza Strip might lessen the extent of sharp criticism it is facing from the world community, although it is widely known that Israeli leaders do not usually give much weight to protests against them in the world. They do consider themselves to be above international law. For them — whether the calm is arrived at or not, whether it succeeds or not, and regardless of how long it may last — what matters is that Israel appears as its initiator, supporter and keeper, even though it might in reality assault every semblance of human life in the Gaza Strip, as it has always done since the start of the conflict. Israel adheres to agreements only when violating them become more costly — politically, militarily, diplomatically, economically, and, above all, in terms of security.
While Palestinians in the Gaza Strip might be facing a dire humanitarian situation today due to the prolonged siege and continued bombardment, Israelis, especially in settlements around the Gaza Strip, are not reaping the fruit of security, particularly after the start of the Great Marches for return and the launching of kites and balloons.
4 | Subjecting Palestinians to more divisions and splits.
Colonial powers have not stopped using the traditional tactic for control, which is based on the idea of “divide and conquer.” One of the most detrimental aspects of the Oslo Agreement has been its fragmentation of Palestinians in a number of ways, politically, demographically and geographically: between returnees and insiders; West Bankers, Gazans, Jerusalemites; 1948 Palestinians and those in the diaspora; those in areas A, B and C; and those focused on varying issues subject respectively to transitional phase negotiations and permanent resolution. All these layers of division seem to have helped the Israeli occupation tighten its noose around the neck of the Palestinian people and plant more seeds of fragmentation.
The calm under discussion is not the culmination of a full-fledged military confrontation: its timing and place of execution is consistent with the terms of the deal of the century that have come to the surface thus far. It is doubtful that it will bring about any real meaningful change in Palestinian life that goes beyond the symbolic and short-lived; and — because it does not have the support of most Palestinian political forces, factions and partie — it becomes then a dense recipe for more Palestinian divisions. Such a state of affairs will inevitably help the Israeli occupation regime boost its power and control, and contribute to saving its institutions at a most critical moment.
At a time when the Palestinian Authority has rejected the deal of the century, as have all other Palestinian factions, going along with one of the deals most dubious components — giving it a humanitarian face and claiming that it will bring about development, reconstruction and modernization for the Gaza Strip — is quite risky and dangerous. Among other things, this will further fragment the already divided Palestinian society. Equally true, paying lip service to the recently resurfacing confederacy option between the West and East Bank of the Jordan River is meant to disguise the assault on the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their historic homeland, Palestine, and thus threatens the Palestinian national interest.
The Trump administration, which seems to live in the past when proposing this option, hastens to unmask the true objective of its policy by attempting to liquidate the Palestinian refugee question, once and for all, by completely cutting off the U.S.’ annual financial contributions to UNRWA.
5 | Legitimizing and boosting the split and, as a result, declaring the death and burial of reconciliation.
Division among Palestinians has already happened. Political, geographic and social division has become a part of Palestinian life. It is no secret that all attempts at ending it have failed thus far. The last thing Palestinians need is another cause to make that existing division deeper.
Each time an attempt at reconciliation fails, trust and credibility between the parties in dispute are further shattered. To be sure, no Palestinian side has come out to publicly announce that it is not concerned with ending the division and achieving reconciliation. All sides compete with each other to assert their adherence to reconciliation efforts and terms, and each works diligently to blame the other for the impending failures. Despite the fact that most statements and expressions of progress towards reconciliation have not been able to put an end to the state of division, still hope has not completely dissipated. Palestinians remain hopeful that the clouds of split overshadowing the Palestinian people will eventually pass and that the sun of reconciliation will rise again.
However, for one party to embrace the calm alone, in the midst of the most complicated regional and international circumstances surrounding the Palestinian problem, becomes a situation that legitimizes Palestinian division in all of its aspects, even if the embracing party does not accept and/or recognize this fact.
It is certainly true that the Gaza Strip has been suffering immensely under one of the most unfair sieges human history has ever recorded. It is also true that the Strip has been subjected to enormous, unprecedented bombardment in the course of three wars between 2008 and 2014. It is even more valid to suggest that the Strip has been left practically alone since the start of the siege. But it is also sound to maintain that wisdom is most needed not during times of comfort and relaxation but rather during times of crises and hardships.
Reacting to the worsening situation in Gaza because of the siege, without consensus among Palestinians and in the midst of deepening divisions, does sustain the split and makes it chronic. In effect, this could totally destroy any semblance for reconciliation thereafter, at least for an extended period of time. In addition to the already-existing reasons for the split, a single Palestinian faction unilaterally entering into an agreement for calm will add insult to injury, and thus make the potential for a true solution almost nonexistent. One major danger lies in the possibility of managing the split by Palestinians themselves, rather than in ending it. Regional and international financial tools can be used to further pull Palestinians away from each other. After all, there are a number of powerful forces of disintegration that have not wished the Palestinians well over the years.
6 | Provoking the Palestinian Authority, which has hitherto rejected the deal of the century, to search for a role for itself to play in dealing with new developments.
It is no secret that enemies of the Palestinian people always try to set one side against another. They always attempt to trigger unhealthy, rather destructive competition over limited opportunities and narrow benefits. Promise of the so-called peace dividends to various competing parties is a way to achieve this goal. The prevalence of relative deprivation in a society like that of the Palestinians enhances the likelihood of embracing and furthering individual and small group interests and benefits at the expense of the public good and/or the national interest. It is no surprise that Palestinian society already suffers from the widespread focus on the “I” more than the ”we.” Acceptance of the other becomes rare, especially as the primacy of the faction, family, and/or the small locality takes over.
Israeli and American planners apparently believe that by making Hamas think that some positive change will take place in Palestinian life if they enter in an agreement for calm with Israel that the Palestinian Authority might be sufficiently provoked, and hence led to follow suit. The belief even goes further to assume that the Authority might want to intensely compete with Hamas, so as to become the power In charge of any possible deal. Such planners calculate that only by further dividing Palestinian society they can get Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to become more competitive. This is the most timely moment to instill more division, so as to pave the way for the implementation of the deal of the century.
Indeed, there are some striking implications and ironies in some relevant political moves. If one reviews the record of political statements by Netanyahu and other Israeli officials before talk about the deal of the century started, one would certainly see that one of the recurring conditions for Israel to resume the political process was for the Palestinian Authority to terminate its ties with Hamas. In almost every talk or statement he gave, Netanyahu would demand of the President of the Authority, Mahmud Abbas, to choose between peace and Hamas. However, all of a sudden after the Authority declared its rejection of the deal of the century, Netanyahu finds it appropriate to work on striking a deal for calm with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, even in the absence of the Authority.
It is also interesting to note in this regard that the UN special envoy to the Middle East, Nickolay Mladenov, stated that he would be content with dealing with Hamas alone regarding life in Gaza, in the event the Authority does not catch up with the move towards the calm. We can surmise that Mladenov would not have made his statements without prior coordination with the United States, which has given its approval for efforts to arrive at an agreement. Such statements can only serve one purpose: to pressure and provoke the Authority to accept its role before it is too late to do so.
Even more important was what one of Israel’s foremost strategists — former head of the Israeli National Security Council, Reserve General Giora Eiland — said. In an article he wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth on August 19, Eiland was direct and quite unequivocal, as he called upon Netanyahu to drop the Palestinian Authority and its president, and to continue working on striking a long-term agreement for calm with Hamas. Again, in a dramatic shift of direction, Eiland reconstructs the discourse in a manner that serves his perspective, as he justifies his call by saying that Hamas was democratically elected in 2006. So Israel brands Hamas as a terrorist organization when such charges serve its interests, then embraces the same group as democratic and opens avenues of negotiations with it when this path seems to promise more benefits.
In any case, no one would believe that Mladenov’s statements and Eiland’s perspective aim to brighten Hamas’s picture and/or to lend legitimacy to Hamas in the world. Rather, they are meant to foment more factional discord in Palestinian society, and to exert pressure on the Palestinian Authority to eventually accept the deal of the century. In so doing, Israel wants to keep Palestinian factions preoccupied with each other, so as to divert attention from the ongoing and intensifying oppressive measures by the occupation against Palestinians, particularly in Jerusalem, and more specifically in the Aqsa Mosque. Apparently this is, in part, what John Bolton, Director of the National Security Council in the U.S., wanted to achieve during his latest visit to Israel in late August.
7 | Extracting a Palestinian approval to abrogate the ceasefire understanding between Israel and Hamas that followed the 2014 agression on the Gaza Strip.
This understanding was not the first that Israel signed, nor will it be the last. As usual, it should have come as no surprise that Israel has repeatedly violated the terms of that understanding. However, Israeli planners often resort to legitimizing their violations of a given agreement by arriving at a new agreement. By definition, a new agreement supersedes any prior agreements on related issues. By signing a new agreement for calm, Israeli planners believe that the world will no longer view Israel as the violator of the 2014 ceasefire understanding.
8 | Instilling divisions within the axis of resistance — made up of some Palestinian resistance groups, like Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Syria and Iran — by neutralizing Hamas in preparation for a new upcoming great war.
The possibility for a U.S.-supported and/or -led big war in the Middle East is greater than any time in the recent past. Notwithstanding the fact that the U.S. and Israel have failed in a number of wars they waged in the region, lessons of earlier experiences do not seem to be heeded. The fact that such a war has not been waged yet does not mean doing away with the idea, but rather, engaging in more preparations while buying more time.
Especially at a time when the U.S. lives one of its most difficult moments domestically because of the ongoing investigations surrounding Trump’s violations and possible collusion with Russia during the last presidential elections, the possibility of resorting to exporting the crisis externally by creating the conditions for war is not to be underestimated. Certainly, Netanyahu would not object to this kind of development: for a long time, he has been trying to drag the U.S. into a calamitous war against Iran and its allies in the region. Measured by the extraordinarily close relation between the two of them, Trump will certainly be ready to act at the right moment.
Therefore, splitting the axis of resistance from within is high on the agenda of the Israelis and the United States. Israel continues to worry about the formation of a united front by all members in the axis of resistance against it in the event of a war. Hence, fragmentation of the axis of resistance is not a matter of luxury, but rather a matter of strategic necessity.
Israel and the U.S. did not succeed in achieving this goal through the steadfast Hezbollah: the Lebanese group was given a number of offers by the United States to attract it to drop Iran — as the Secretary-General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, confirmed in one of his speeches — but to no avail. Hamas is believed to be a more amenable target to fall for this ploy: through promises of reconstruction and prosperity projects for the Gaza Strip, it is believed that Hamas will go along with an extended agreement for calm, and hence with staying away from the axis of resistance. Israeli planners believe they can capitalize on a precedent in this regard: the stand Hamas took at the beginning of the Syrian Crisis in opposition to the Syrian government and in support of some armed opposition groups, in a manner that stood in total contradiction to and conflict with that taken by Hezbollah and Iran.
Therefore, the least that can be achieved, Israel calculates, is to neutralize Hamas and free a whole front with the Gaza Strip in the event of a war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, or even with Iran. The Israeli thinking is that Hamas itself becomes interested in holding onto the state of calm once it sees the money pouring in for reconstructing the Gaza Strip.
9 | Planting seeds of conflict within the Gaza Strip between supporters and opponents of the calm.
It is an established fact now that there is no Palestinian consensus over an agreement for calm with Israel at this critical stage because of the tricky surrounding international and regional circumstances. Therefore, it is expected that the Gaza Strip will witness intense interaction between supporters and opponents. It is also no secret that those who count on Hamas’s failure cannot be overlooked. There are some who do not wish Hamas well, and as such, will do everything they can to topple any attempt towards calm. At the same time, Israel is not just sitting idly by watching what’s happening: as it has done numerous times in the past, Israel will do everything at its disposal, through its intelligence services, to heighten the level of tensions in the Gaza Strip. This would be one of the most effective ways to keep Hamas occupied with internal matters.
As Oslo created a fertile ground for lasting internal fueds and frictions among Palestinians, the calm under discussion is bound to trigger unavoidable confrontations within the Gaza Strip. At best, Hamas will inevitably find itself compelled to take harsh and necessary security measures against any disrupters of the calm. This may position Hamas to fight against other resistance groups in the Gaza Strip. Israel will surely not shed any tear over such possible developments.
10 | Tainting the image of Hamas as a movement for resistance in Palestinian society.
Many observers and analysts suggest that Hamas did not acquire its popularity and legitimacy in Palestinian society due to its political and ideological positions, as much as by virtue of its resistance against the Israeli occupation. In Palestinian society, the effectiveness of any movement, faction or party is usually measured by the extent to which it is involved in the national struggle and in resistance against the occupation. The popularity of political forces goes up or down depending on the size, magnitude and effect of their role in resistance efforts.
In this regard, aside from political positions, friends and foes of Hamas recognize that Hamas has played a pivotal role in resistance activities, not the least of which being its ability to withstand and remain steadfast in the face of three subsequent Israeli agressions in the last decade.
However, in spite of this recognition, many consider the timing and the context of the calm suspicious at this stage, and such considerations may alter this image of Hamas among many Palestinians. Palestinian critics argue that Gazans have been sacrificing, not so as to get a loaf of bread, so to speak, as important as it may be for human survival, but rather to achieve political and national objectives — i.e., freedom and independence. Critics also suggest that such a path has been tested before and failed: Israel does not abide by agreements it signs.
They say that the alternative is not for Hamas to go to war against Israel, but rather to cooperate with other Palestinian parties to capitalize on international solidarity with the Gaza Strip so as to end the state of siege, once and for all, without having to make detrimental political concessions.
In addition, there does not seem to be uniformity of opinion within Hamas itself regarding the calm. Some Hamas leaders, cadres, members and supporters oppose the calm under the current conditions and circumstances. Some have expressed profound disenchantment with the regurgitation of failing experiences. Arguments by the defenders of the calm from within Hamas have not been all that convincing for many rank and file members. Therefore, it is widely expected that pursuing the calm in the midst of internal disagreements can also lead to splits within Hamas itself.
The calm would bring anything but calm
Accordingly, the imminent dangers of the would-be calm for Palestinians are enormous, and may exceed by far the detrimental effects of the Oslo Agreement. Regional and international circumstances are less conducive for Palestinians, particularly with the burning desire of the Trump administration to put its deal of the century into effect. Even those Palestinians who have been heavily and staunchly involved in negotiations with the Israelis have come out sharply criticizing the timing and the context of the calm now.
Even in the event there is a symbolic temporary lifting of the siege off the Gaza Strip, the main beneficiary remains the Israeli occupation itself, as it controls the flow and prices of entering goods and commodities, and as it exercises total control over all entry points, from land, air and sea.
It doesn’t seem to be the case that the calm under discussion will bring about much calm. Any unilateral agreement by one Palestinian party is bound to fail and take Palestinians into a more difficult situation than the one lived in the Gaza Strip today. The timing and overall context of an agreement for calm now are quite questionable, especially in light of the ongoing efforts by the Trump administration to liquidate the question of Palestine through its so-called deal of the century: it is a deal with and for everybody except the Palestinian people themselves, who are most directly affected and concerned.
The key to the way out does not lie in more partisanship and factional bickering: it is this deterioration in Palestinian cohesion that made it possible for Trump to gin up a solution for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict without the Palestinian people.
The solution lies in real unity among Palestinians, dictated by interest, necessity and circumstance. This can prove to be beneficial not only for Palestinians but, as surprising as this may sound, for all other players involved in this conflict, including the Israelis themselves.
While Israel and the United States may plan to instill more division and fragmentation among Palestinians to achieve short-term objectives, the state of chaos, and perhaps anarchy that may ensue can have far-reaching destabilizing effects for Israel. Geography is not on their side. Their schemes have not always succeeded in the past. Indeed they have been wrestling with one strategic failure after another. They should not be captivated by a sense of instantaneous gratification. The Palestinian people have persevered all along and, in spite of the impending heavy cost, they are expected to survive again, and emerge much stronger. No one can argue that the current state of affairs, or one that is worse, is sustainable.
The Palestinian people are the party that needs a genuine calm the most. The occupation has turned their life into total misery, day-in and day-out. All aspects of their life have been severely affected because the occupation is after them 24/7. At the same time, Palestinians have become quite wary of deceptive, misleading agreements for calm, which give the occupation more time to become more entrenched under the cover of peace.
The would-be agreement for calm does not promise to be any different. Actually, it more directly threatens Palestinian well-being and existence, as it is linked to the deal of the century, which aims to dissolve the question of Palestine.
What is needed is an agreement that ends the Israeli occupation of Palestine once and for all, and grants the Palestinian people their rights to real, full statehood, freedom, independence and self-determination, as dictated by international law. Any other way is bound to deepen and intensify the conflict. No one should be misled by fake cosmetic political moves here or there. Genuine calm requires genuine intentions, not a recycling of the occupation.
Hisham H. Ahmed, Ph.D. was Chair of the Academic Senate and Chair of the Politics Department at Saint Mary’s College of California, he was a Fulbright scholar in Palestine, where he wrote his book: From Religious Salvation to political transformation: the rise of Hamas in Palestinian Society. Ahmed is the author of numerous studies dealing with the Middle East. Ahmed is frequently called upon by the local and international media for analyses of various political issues pertaining to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.