osewalrus (osewalrus) wrote,

Some further reflections on the Hamas/PA Deal

One of the questions orbiting about the Hamas/Fatah reconciliation is whetehr it denotes strength or weakness, and for whom. As always in reality, my feeling is that it is a fairly complicated situation with no single answer.

As always, it is important to remember that people can do things for multiple, even contradictory reasons. It is also the case that people can have mixed feelings about their government or their leaders. Palestinians may distrust their leaders, but that does not mean that Hamas would necessarily win elections as they did in 2005. (I think that was when the last elections were held.) OTOH, they easily could. While many Palestinians like the overall direction the Fatah-led PA government has taken in the last two years, that doesn't mean the Palestinians trust Fatah to lead them to -- wherever they think they are going these days (peace deal? independence?)

A few things do stand out.

1. The PA, even when combined with Hamas, cannot win a head-to-head conflict with Israel without outside help. That was one of the lessons of 2006 and 2008. Neither side has anyplace to go, Israel has superior fire power, and will use it regardless of the number of civilian casualties this inflicts.

2. No outside power is particularly interested in supporting Palestinian independence through military intervention, with the possible exception of Hezbollah. But 2006 demonstrated that Hezbollah is not enough, and 2008 showed even Hezbollah has limits.

All of this could change. Possibly the specter of Egypt or other powers such as Iran or Turkey or even potential trading partners/allies providing military assistance may loom large in the thoughts of Palestinians interested in a military solution. But direct military intervention seems unlikely, and even material support is unlikely. It risks too much, and the other parties in the region know it. And I have to imagine that the Palestinians have become deeply cynical of the promises from their supporters once the bullets start flying.

Meanwhile, Palestinians are getting impatient with their respective governments. Division into two quasi-states was never part of the plan, and it is quite clear that neither side can triumph militarily over the other. Add to this the general instability in the Arab world. From the Hamas perspective, the potential gain of support from Egypt is offset from the potential loss of support from Syria, which may also weaken the ability of Hezbollah to support Hamas depending on the impact of Syria's collapse on Lebanese politics. There is also the risk for Hamas that if the PA declares a state, and it gains international recognition, Fatah will be deemed the "legitimate" government and Hamas will be cut out of the international legitimacy. With the border crossing with Egypt now open, Hamas also loses it's most effective international card -- sympathy over the Israeli blockade. Add to this genuine desire by an increasingly large segment of the Palestinian electorate to see something that looks like forward progress from Hamas and Hamas has significant incentive to cut a deal.

Fatah also has incentive. Even more that Hamas, they have to worry about maintaining legitimacy with an increasingly restive 20-30 year old population who are eager to get on with their lives and have a future. The incoming generation of Palestinians are post-Oslo. They've been stuck in stasis for 20 years, and are plugged into the same currents swirling around the Arab Spring as their neighbors. Sure they totally hate the oppressor Zionists and want their fathers, uncles and older brothers out of jail. But they want a strategy that actually works. So they want their leaders to grow up already and stop fighting with each other. Because Fatah is dependent on international goodwill and recognition of legitimacy for its unilateral declaration of statehood, the prospect of a serious military crackdown is not appealing. To the contrary. The older generation leading Fatah recognizes it is dependent on legitimacy from its electorate, which means finding a way to make up with Hamas.

This does not mean that anyone has necessarily changed their minds about anyone or anything. Hamas still thinks it won the last election fair and square and Fatah should go along with the will of the people. Fatah still think that they should be running the show and that, as a practical matter, the whole path to independence thing falls apart of Hamas are officially in charge. And no one has changed their mind about Israel or suddenly become all "moderate."

However, as I pointed out in my last extensive post on the subject, that should not be a pre-requisite of determining strategy and tactics. My operating assumption is that the Palestinians are never going to change their minds about the legitimacy of Israel. If I were a Palestinian, I wouldn't. The question is only whether you reach a stable equilibrium, which looks a lot more promising and involves many more players.

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