Hamas and the five-year truce deal

Hamas and the five-year truce deal

Hamas has surprised me, for once, with its organization, governance, language, style and, above all, its political skill. Perhaps this is the only occasion on which I will commend Hamas as I, like many others, constantly criticize this extremist organization for the chaos and crises it has caused, the opportunities it has ruined, and for what it has got its people into — inside and outside the Gaza Strip.

In the truce deal it has reached with Israel, Hamas surprised us and proved that it possesses more political skill than other parties. For a small price, the organization has earned a great deal. If the deal succeeds, Hamas will avoid being eliminated through strangulation and will have proven to be shrewder than its rival, the Palestinian Authority, as well as the aging Fatah movement, which has enjoyed a monopoly on Palestine’s strategic decision making since the 1970s.

We await the full details of the “five-year deal,” a truce of peace and reconciliation between Hamas and Israel. This is, in fact, a “wicked” invention, as it promises only a temporary peace and a partial recognition. In a rare occurrence, under this deal Hamas would be recognized by Israel as a “legitimate Palestinian entity” and not merely as an appendage to the government in Ramallah. Israel would also pledge not to attack Hamas or Gaza, provided that Hamas ceases to launch land and air attacks through its underground network, missiles and incendiary balloons.

Furthermore, the truce would result in the permanent opening of the two border crossings, Karm Abu Salem (Kerem Shalom) and Rafah, and the addition of 12 kilometers to the territorial waters controlled by Hamas in the Mediterranean. It would also allow the free flow of goods and people to and from the Gaza Strip, and include the release of a number of Hamas prisoners detained in Israeli jails.

To protect the truce from sabotage, Hamas deceived the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank by letting it bet on the deal’s failure. President Mahmoud Abbas had believed an agreement between Hamas and Israel was impossible, so he chose to escalate the conflict and adopt a firm stance. This, indeed, has led to a change of roles, with Hamas now more moderate than the PA.

Hamas will surely be criticized for signing a five-year truce with Israel. But the organization will respond by challenging critics to come up with an alternative to the agreement, in the light of the serious changes taking place in the region’s political map.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed

Abbas’ advisers in Ramallah said the meeting between Hamas and Israel would never take place. When the meeting went ahead, they said an agreement was impossible. However, Hamas and Israel have managed to reach an agreement while Ramallah was still sound asleep.

Until a few months ago, Hamas was pleading with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to pay electricity and telecommunications bills, as well as employee salaries, but the Palestinian Authority insisted that it take full control of the Gaza Strip in exchange for paying the bills. Thus Hamas decided to go directly to the Palestinian Authority's source of funding, Israel — the enemy it is bound to befriend. By doing so, Hamas, which had been in a five-year state of hibernation, has gained something worth much more than electricity and phone bills, while giving almost nothing in return.

Hamas was in this situation because the Bashar Assad regime in Syria has been weakened and the Ali Khamenei regime is under siege, leaving it with only two friends in this scary world: Mohammed Dahlan and the Egyptian government. Through these two, the organization has managed to attain more than anyone could have expected. It was assumed that Hamas would be obliged to accept being under the control of the Palestinian Authority, which would have its own demands for both Hamas and Israel in exchange.

Hamas will surely be criticized for signing a five-year truce with Israel. But the organization will respond by challenging critics to come up with an alternative to the agreement, in the light of the serious changes taking place in the region’s political map.

As for those who regard the truce as an attempt to drive a wedge between the two Palestinian parties, they cannot deny that the relationship between them was already damaged, and what the two parties have done to each other was more than enough to split them.

Moreover, those who would denounce Hamas for accepting Egypt as the deal’s sponsor do not realize that it would have been impossible to reach any agreement without the Egyptians. Therefore, the Egyptian sponsorship was a must.

One final point. Why does the deal run for five years only? We do not yet know how the guarantees were calculated, or whether this period will be used to test intentions before, possibly, moving on to a more important stage. Israel and Hamas certainly do not trust one another. Israel has always blamed Hamas for missiles fired from Gaza by armed groups that are not controlled by Hamas, while Hamas is suspicious of Israel’s promises, given that Palestinians who were released in the well-known Gilad Shalit prisoners exchange were rearrested.

So the coming five years might offer a new opportunity for both Israel and Hamas, one that could pave the way for more important future changes in Palestine.

Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.
Twitter: @aalrashed

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