When Hamas ejected Fatah from Gaza in 2007, the terror group did more than simply carve out a base of influence. Because of Gaza’s geographic isolation from the West Bank, once Hamas was able to solidify control it created a shadow state governed by one-party rule and with its own foreign policy. In authoritarian societies like Hamas-ruled Gaza, government control is such that the unaccountable bureaucracy is staffed with appointees whose livelihood depends on the whim and favor of those above them. So that’s where their loyalties lie.
This situation–Gaza’s isolation and its one-party rule–means that integrating Hamas into the broader Palestinian governance structure in the West Bank is far easier than integrating non-Hamasniks into Gaza. That goes double for Hamas’s rival, Fatah. The two may have signed a unity agreement seeking to forge a common government and hold elections, but how will it go when Palestinian Authority “unity” government figures try to apply that piece of paper to Gaza? The New York Times gives us an idea:
The Palestinian Authority has had a new government for 10 days now, but the prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, acknowledged on Thursday that he still lacked any authority in the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip and that nothing has yet changed on the ground.
Though the new government was approved by both of the rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, Mr. Hamdallah offered no plan for disarming militants, integrating the two sides’ security forces, or even for getting Gaza’s 1.7 million residents to start paying taxes and electricity bills.
How does Mr. Hamdallah plan to rectify this? Your guess is as good as his:
In an hourlong interview, Mr. Hamdallah laid much of the responsibility for reconciling the West Bank and Gaza after seven years of schism on two committees, one of which has yet to be formed. He repeated political platitudes about Palestinian unity, but offered no practical program to deliver it.
Part of that can be explained by the fact that Hamdallah apparently doesn’t approve of the team he was not able to choose:
Mr. Hamdallah, who has been prime minister for a year, said he was dissatisfied with his new cabinet, which was selected through negotiations between the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas, the militant Islamic faction that has ruled Gaza since 2007. If the decision had been left up to him, he said, he would have chosen “very few” of the ministers in the new cabinet.
Asked when he would visit Gaza, Mr. Hamdallah was silent for a long moment and then said, “We haven’t set a time for that.”
Let’s stipulate that we’re not even two weeks into this new government, and that the leadership is temporary anyway until elections can be held, and so no one’s expecting miracles. But Palestinian leaders hoping to break up Hamas’s monopoly in Gaza really should consider actually going there.
Unless it’s all for show, as skeptics of the Hamas-Fatah unity deal have been warning. As the Times notes:
Samah Sabawi, a Palestinian poet and political activist who lives in Australia but has many relatives in Gaza, said the bank crisis showed a “lack of trust on the ground between the two factions.”
“If it’s a normal democracy in a sovereign nation, you can have diverse views with conflicting agendas,” Ms. Sabawi said. “But we’re talking about a people under occupation. Their politics, their policies, are always beholden to whomever is paying their money. It really has been reduced to just theater.”
There can’t be a peace deal without Palestinian unity, but there can’t be Palestinian unity without a peace deal, and around and around we go. Yet the remark about it all being “just theater,” however accurate, also points to the fact that the Obama administration is playing the same game.
All these loopholes and facades, such as the idea that no one in the new government is explicitly a member of Hamas, are not fooling Washington. They are, instead, adhering to precisely what Washington wants from them at the moment. American law says we can’t fund a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, but the Obama administration wants to support Palestinian unity which necessarily has to include Hamas–regardless of what their party registration cards say.
As long as there’s a technicality on which the administration can legally continue its policy of engagement, it will do so. No one’s fooling anyone, because they don’t have to.