The division and infighting between Palestinian groups, Hamas and Fatah, have always come at a high price for the Palestinian people. However, the cost of that enmity is reaching its most dangerous levels yet.
While the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority continues to receive American military aid to sustain ‘security coordination’ between its forces and the Israeli Occupation army, Hamas is holding indirect talks with Israel.
These indirect talks – between Palestinian groups, Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and others and the Israeli government – restarted in Cairo with the mediation of Egypt’s General Intelligence Services (GIS).
The aim, for this round, is mostly focused on salvaging an earlier short-term truce agreement, also signed in Cairo, leaving a long-term truce arrangement for future dates.
To put pressure on Palestinian negotiators, Israeli snipers killed seven unarmed Palestinian protesters at the fence separating besieged Gaza from Israel last Friday, Sep 28. Two of those killed were children aged 12 and 14-years-old.
That was one of the most violent encounters since thousands of Palestinians began protesting at the fence under the banner of “The Great March of Return”. As many as 193 Palestinians were killed since the protests began on March 30, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health.
Clearly, the Israeli government wanted to send a violent message, one not just aimed at Palestinian groups in Gaza but is also intended for an Israeli audience.
The Israeli hardline Education Minister, Naftali Bennett, has been particularly outspoken against his government’s engagement with the Gaza groups. The opportunistic Bennett is accusing his Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, of ‘weakness’ in engaging in ceasefire talks.
“The Lieberman-Hamas agreements have crashed,” he was quoted as saying in the Israeli news website, Ynet, adding, “The terror is continuing at the expense of the security of our residents thanks to Lieberman’s policy of restraint and weakness.”
If the deliberate killing of the seven Palestinian protesters was a reassurance to right wing Israelis that their government is still in control, the resumption of the talks in Cairo reflects the sense of urgency in Tel Aviv to control the repercussions of the Strip’s growing economic woes.
A truce with Hamas that has no real chance of succeeding or even creating a mere political horizon will surely divide an already fragmented Palestinian leadershipRamzy Baroud
Gaza is indeed on the verge of economic collapse. A high-level diplomatic meeting of international donors in New York revealed the extent of the impending crisis. According to the World Bank, unemployment in the Strip, which has been under an Israeli blockade for 11 years, stands at 70 percent.
Furthermore, with the continued US financial punishment of the Palestinians, through the holding of aid funds to the Palestinian Authority, UNRWA and other relief programs, Gazans are running out of options.
Although Israel launches regular wars on the Gaza Strip in the name of ‘deterrence’, another war for the time-being might not fit into Netanyahu’s immediate political calculations.
He is politically embattled and in need of keeping his right-wing coalition in order as opposed to being forced to cope with the outcomes of another deadly war that will surely receive massive international condemnations. Hence, his secret talks in Cairo with the Palestinians groups.
Israel is certainly not interested in a long-term truce in Gaza; Tel Aviv wants Gaza isolated and besieged but also wants to reserve its control over the nature and timing of violent campaigns.
In fact, there is little disagreement among top officials in Israel regarding the recurring need to ‘mow the lawn’, as in attacking Gaza through regular military campaigns. It is only a question of when.
Moreover, Israel is in the process of building an underground barrier along the Gaza fence. There are massive investments in various other schemes all aimed at tightening the noose around Gaza’s 2-million inhabitants.
But Israel’s strategy is also political. A truce with Hamas that has no real chance of succeeding or even creating a mere political horizon will surely divide an already fragmented Palestinian leadership.
The talks in Cairo are also supported by the US administration of Donald Trump which is busy pressuring the PA and others to accept its ill-defined ‘Deal of the Century.” US motives behind its support of the truce talks in Cairo are unsurprisingly similar to those of Israel.
Israel and the US are working diligently to change the rules of the game entirely. In fact, the ‘Deal of the Century’ is precisely that - redefining the ‘conflict’ altogether so that fundamental issues to Palestinians for any future peace agreement are removed from the agenda.
Legal and political foundation
With unconditional support from the Trump Administration, Tel Aviv sees a golden opportunity to redefine what has, for decades, constituted the legal and political foundation of the ‘Palestinian-Israeli conflict.’
Indeed, the new strategy has so far targeted the status of East Jerusalem as an Occupied Palestinian city and also the Right of Return for Palestinian refugees. It aims to create a new reality in which Israel achieves its strategic goals while the rights of Palestinians are limited to mere humanitarian issues.
Clearly, Israel and the US are using the division between Palestinian factions to their advantage. While for years Fatah received numerous financial and political perks from Washington, Hamas subsisted in isolation under a permanent siege and protracted state of war. It seems that the Trump Administration - under the auspices of Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner - are turning the tables.
While the subservience of the PA under the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas has been successfully tested in the past, under the Trump Administration the US demands complete ‘respect’, thus total obedience. Fatah opposes indirect Hamas-Israeli talks on the grounds that any agreement should be facilitated by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), not individual factions.
ALSO READ: The New Zealand Model: Unwavering international solidarity with Palestine
In truth, what annoys Abbas is the fact that his party, which has undemocratically dominated Palestinian political space for decades, is being increasingly marginalized by its traditional benefactors, Tel Aviv and Washington. Hamas should, however, be wary of the long-term consequences of its own political maneuvering.
While the short-term truce is justifiable on humanitarian grounds, a long-term truce that determines the nature and scope of Palestinian Resistance and further distinguishes between the political aspirations of Palestinians in Gaza and those in the rest of Palestine, is a political gamble, to say the least.
Sidelining Gaza from the rest of the Palestinian struggle is now a joint Israeli-US strategy predicated on choking off Palestinians from badly needed funds and also developing several tracks of talks involving Palestinian groups separately.
Abbas, whose political apparatus is largely reliant for its survival on the ‘security coordination’ with Israel, US political validation and financial handouts, has little with which to challenge the new US-Israeli strategy.
Hamas, on the other hand, feels that it has greater chance of achieving an end to the siege through the Cairo talks. However, delinking the future of Gaza from the future of all Palestinians will come at a dire cost: dividing Palestine and the aspirations of her people between competing factions.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB.