Over three months have passed since Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation agreement in Egypt on October 12th. The agreement, which aims to form a unity government and put an end to a decade of internal division, has not yet yielded any drastic political changes.
Over the years, the political siege, the crippling economic crisis, increased crime rates, and the deteriorating social situation in Gaza have all weakened Hamas’ domestic popularity. As a result, Hamas agreed to another reconciliation with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas—likely a political tactic. In a one-on-one interview with the co-founder of Hamas, Mahmoud al-Zahar said, "President Abbas accepted reconciliation for his political interests and these are not part of his larger national strategy." He added that Fatah will not follow through with the terms of the reconciliation agreement, but wants to keep the reconciliation talks going and gain more time for the sole purpose of weakening Hamas.
Hamas formally handed over the border crossings to the Palestinian Authority (PA) and relinquished their duties at the border in accordance with the recent agreement. However not much has changed on the ground, the daily crisis in Gaza has not ended, and the promises Abbas was going to impose have not yet been implemented.
Yahya al-Sanwar, a leader of Hamas and a proponent of reconciliation with Fatah, officially announced during a meeting while addressing young activists, in Gaza on December 2017, that reconciliation is about to collapse. He stated that, “those who cannot see the reconciliation is collapsing are blind. The reconciliation is collapsing and everyone must intervene to save it.” Al-Sanwar’s remarks are in reference to Abbas’ intransigence in implementing the terms of reconciliation and how the PA President exploits time to achieve his political vision.
The Rafah crossing, located in southern Gaza, is the only outlet the local population has to communicate with the outside world and has been opened only twice since the reconciliation agreement was announced in early October. As of November 1st, the presidential guards of the PA would operate the crossing. Only a few thousand people were able to pass the "crossing of death," as Palestinians call it due to the humiliation, corruption and the risks involved. The main problem now with the Rafah crossing is the irregularity of the border being open as well as the Egyptian authorities restricting travel to particular groups of people. Bribes are paid to the Egyptian security forces through Palestinian intermediaries, passengers’ names are then added to a list, and once the Egyptian soldier calls their name they are permitted to pass through the crossing.
The electricity crisis persists without improvement, the economic situation is deteriorating, crime rates rise daily, and social life is shaken due to socio-political tensions. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the decision to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem have only exacerbated these issues in Gaza. However, the recent events did not push the Palestinian president toward implementing the terms of reconciliation with Hamas. Following Trump’s announcement, Gazans objected to the U.S. Administration’s decision in their own way. The youth headed towards the borders between Gaza and Israel, carrying the Palestinian flag, and demonstrating against Israeli soldiers.
Hamas and other factions demonstrated and held peaceful rallies against Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem, however they did not initiate military operations against Israel. Unlike the radical Salafi groups that fired rockets at Israel, Israel’s retaliatory response called for the bombing of several military sites that belonged to Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Contrary to what was expected, President Abbas did not care to proceed in the reconciliation talks with Hamas, but rather went alone to the international community to oppose the U.S. Administration’s decision to claim Jerusalem as the capital.
I also interviewed Gaza-based political analyst Hani Habib, and he stated that, "this is a greater chance for Abbas to prove to Hamas that he is stronger than them.” He added that, “with the current events, all of Hamas’ tactics will be filled, due to the strategic political force that is being used by Abbas.” According to Habib, Hamas has not had any chance of success in its political tactics, especially in the reconciliation with Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan. "The current political situation is similar to the situation before the war of 2014," Habib stated, however it is unlikely that Hamas will escalate against Israel, as it did in the past.
Until Hamas escalates against Israel, President Abbas can only eliminate Hamas politically by weakening its decision-making power, economic financing and increasing pressure on the group to see how much weight they can endure before cracking.