April 18, 2024
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PA Has Zero Control of Hamas

TIP—The New York Times last Thursday conveyed remarks from Palestinian Authori­ty (PA) Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah—who sits atop the newly formed cabinet agreed to by the rival Hamas and Fatah factions—admit­ting that his unity government has function­ally zero control over the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip, part of an interview that was pub­lished on the same day that 88 senators dis­patched a letter to President Barack Obama demanding that the PA be monitored for com­pliance with among other things its treaty ob­ligations to Israel. The letter [PDF] referenced black-letter U.S. legislation banning assistance to any government over which Hamas exercis­es an undue influence, and blasted the terror group for its “refusal to meet recognized inter­national demands: recognition of Israel, re­nunciation of terror, and acceptance of previ­ous Israel-PLO agreements.”

The convergence of the two dynamics— PA impotence in the Gaza Strip and deepening congressional calls for scrutiny—may prove problematic for Hamdallah and for PA Presi­dent Mahmoud Abbas as they scramble to cir­cumvent congressional moves to block aid to the Fatah-Hamas government. The 1998 Wye Accords obligate the PA to “establish and vigor­ously and continuously implement a systemat­ic program for the collection and appropriate handling” of any weapons in the Gaza Strip ex­cept those permitted by the earlier 1995 Oslo II agreements [PDF]. That treaty in turn sharp­ly limits the kinds of arms that government se­curity forces are allowed to possess, and Ha­mas’s forces and missile arsenal fall far beyond that scope. The Thursday New York Times arti­cle described Hamdallah as having “repeated political platitudes about Palestinian unity, but offered no practical program to deliver it.” The language in the Wye Accords obligating Ra­mallah to disarm Hamas and integrate its forc­es, which is applicable in “areas under Pales­tinian jurisdiction,” does not seem to allow the PA to ignore its obligations in cases where im­plementing the required “systematic program” would be really inconvienent or challenging.

Officials from the Fatah faction of Pales­tinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Ab­bas have spent recent days openly lashing out against the rival Hamas faction as evidence continued to emerge—acknowledged by the Americans, by the Israelis, and by Fatah offi­cials themselves —that the terror group was linked to last Thursday’s abduction of three Is­raeli teenagers traveling through the West Bank. The crisis comes just a few weeks after Abbas inked a unity pact with Hamas leaders under which they agreed to the formation of a consensus government that would have juris­diction over both the Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip and over Fatah-controlled portions of the West Bank. The subsequent formation of the new cabinet generated substantial controversy and cost Abbas and his international support­ers significant political and diplomatic capital, but eventually Western governments—includ­ing the Obama administration—had decided to continue supporting Ramallah. Washington had in particular worked closely with PA offi­cials to avoid running afoul of U.S. laws restrict­ing aid to governments that include Hamas. Fatah figures are now said to be seething over what they consider to be something between recklessness and betrayal on the part of Ha­mas. Abbas publicly condemned the abduc­tions on Monday. Veteran Arab affairs report­er Avi Issacharoff has since that condemnation published a series of articles quoting Abbas’s allies conveying open anger and promises of retribution.

A Monday afternoon article contained ac­cusations that ‘Hamas was trying to undermine the relative peace in the West Bank and foment unrest against both Israel and the Palestini­an Authority’ and that ‘Hamas will pay a steep price for the kidnapping… in the form of pu­nitive steps with which the PA plans to target Hamas in Gaza.’ A story published by Issacha­roff a few hours later confirmed Hamas’s in­volvement in the abductions and quoted a Fa­tah source insisting that Hamas had promised not to engage in violent operations as a con­dition for the unity pact. The same source em­phasized that “if it becomes clear that Hamas is responsible for the kidnapping and breached the agreement, that would mark the crossing of a red line from our point of view, and we could not maintain the reconciliation status quo.” A day later Issacharoff published an arti­cle seemingly confirming that Fatah had taken steps to roll back the reconciliation.

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