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Hamas to surrender control of Gaza in new Palestinian deal

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In return for what? Perhaps just for survival as an entity. After more than a decade of disastrous dictatorship in Gaza, Hamas has finally agreed to cede control of the enclave to the Fatah-dominated Palestinian authority. A deal brokered by the Egyptian al-Sisi government will provide a reunion of the Palestinian people … assuming it holds:

Rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah reached a deal over political reconciliation on Thursday after Hamas agreed to hand over administrative control of the Gaza enclave the group has controlled for more than a decade.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh announced the Egyptian-brokered accord in a statement without providing further details about a deal expected to cover administrative, security and border crossing arrangements in the Gaza Strip. …

Hamas agreed to hand administrative powers in Gaza to a Fatah-backed government last month. The move was a major reversal for Hamas, prompted partly by the group’s fears of potential financial and political isolation after its main donor Qatar fell into a major diplomatic dispute with key allies.

So far, the deal is only in principle. The details will be left to committees to hammer out, and that has been where previous efforts have hit brick walls, as the Times of Israel notes:

Officials close to the talks said the sides agreed to set up committees to work out the details — in the past a mechanism that quickly led to deadlock.

One committee would have four months to determine who among thousands of Hamas civil servants would be able to join the new government. Another committee would merge 3,000 Palestinian Authority loyalists into Gaza’s Hamas-run police force.

That will be one of the hardest brick walls to crack:

A major sticking point has been the Hamas military wing and its arsenal. Abbas has said he would only return to Gaza if Hamas hands over power, while Hamas has said the military wing is not up for discussion. Hamas officials have assured the Fatah negotiators that the military wing would maintain a low profile as part of any deal.

It’s not clear if this will satisfy Abbas, or if the dispute will re-emerge later on.

Ahem. It’s this military “wing” of Hamas that has started three wars with Israel over the last ten years, and which keeps digging tunnels under the border to capture hostages and conduct terror attacks. Abbas would have to be insane to allow Hamas to operate an armed force independent of the Palestinian Authority. Hamas could then force Abbas into a ruinous war with Israel that could threaten the West Bank — and in fact, that might be one reason why Hamas is now willing to cede control under these conditions. They want Abbas to have to fight in the next war they start.

On the other hand, Hamas is about out of options. Their one bright hope fell with the Mohamed Morsi-Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi deposed Morsi and outlawed the Muslim Brotherhood, parent organization of Hamas, and cracked down on the Gaza border. Israel’s blockade of Gaza prevents (or at least constrains) resupply from Iran, and the sudden shift of the Qatar government away from Hamas left them with no effective lines of communication. All they have left are two million mouths to feed and no way to do it.

The feeding part will go to the Palestinian Authority, and Egypt plans to make that job a lot easier by expanding operations at the Rafah crossing. That will also allow Gazans to emigrate out of the enclave, which should make it even easier for the PA to handle operations. In the short run, at least, Fatah successes in these endeavors will undermine Hamas’ political and ideological standing even further, which also has to prompt some curiosity as to why they’re agreeing to bow out now, rather than argue for a more active role in operations. Perhaps they’ll bide their time and allow the corruption in the PA to erode its standing in Gaza — and/or accelerate that erosion with some sabotage. If Hamas wants to refresh its political standing, what better way to do it than to have Fatah screw up even worse than they have?

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