PA prime minister visits Gaza to initiate power transfer from Hamas

The Palestinian Authority and Hamas have commenced their reconciliation process. Will this further hamper opportunities for peace with Israel? 

Palestinian Authority (PA) Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah arrived in the Gaza Strip Monday for the first time since 2014, as the PA and its rival, the Hamas terror group which rules Gaza, initiated the first steps in forming a unity government.

Hamdallah’s visit is intended as the first symbolic move towards transferring custodianship of the coastal territory from Hamas to the PA.

Upon arrival, Hamdallah and his 30-vehicle motorcade were greeted by Hamas members as well as members of the PA’s ruling party, Fatah. A crowd of 2,000 people gathered to hear the senior PA official deliver an address.

“The only way to statehood is through unity,” Hamdallah said. “We are coming to Gaza again to deepen the reconciliation and end the split.”

“The government began to exercise its roles in Gaza from today,” he said, praising Hamas for agreeing to hand over governance of the territory to the PA, and lauding Egypt for mediating the reconciliation deal.

This is by far the most ambitious attempt at Palestinian reconciliation since Hamas violently seized power of the coastal strip from Fatah in 2007, leaving the Palestinians torn between rival governments. Hamas has ruled Gaza, while Abbas’ party has controlled autonomous enclaves in the Judea and Samaria area.

The latest move towards Palestinian reconciliation comes after months of economic and political pressure applied by the PA against Hamas, including the PA’s decision to significantly cut its subsidization of Gaza’s electricity bill and stop paying salaries of government workers and former prisoners in Gaza.

Conditions in Gaza have deteriorated greatly in a decade of Hamas rule. Gaza has fallen deeper into poverty, unemployment is estimated at over 40 percent, Gaza’s 2 million residents are virtually barred from traveling abroad, and residents have electricity for only a few hours a day.

Who Will Control Hamas’ Guns?

Difficult negotiations lay ahead and key sticking points, particularly who will control Hamas’ vast weapons arsenal, could easily derail the effort.  While Hamas is eager to give up its governing responsibilities, officials say the group will not give up its arsenal of thousands of rockets and mortars aimed at Israel.

While previous reconciliation attempts have failed, years of international isolation and steadily worsening conditions in Gaza have pushed Hamas toward compromise.

In a significant concession, Hamas has offered to turn over all governing responsibilities to Hamdallah. His ministers are expected to begin taking over government ministries Tuesday, with negotiations in Cairo on more difficult issues in the coming weeks.

Donald Trump’s Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt said in a statement that the US “welcomes efforts to create the conditions for the Palestinian Authority to fully assume its responsibilities in Gaza.”

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognition of the state of Israel,” and should also accept previous agreements between the parties, he added.

There was no immediate comment from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Reconciliation at Odds with Peace

The reconciliation with Hamas, which is still committed to terrorism against Israel, would put the PA at odds with the Quartet’s Roadmap for Peace, which outlines the necessary conditions for an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.

The Quartet principles were endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, and require Palestinian leadership to issue an “unequivocal statement reiterating Israel’s right to exist in peace and security and calling for an immediate end to all acts of violence against Israelis anywhere.”

In a press briefing hosted by The Israel Project last week, former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams noted that President Donald Trump was “quite unhappy with the behavior of Mahmoud Abbas during the Temple Mount incident, where he could have spoken in ways that would have ended the crisis. Instead his rhetoric was hot.” According to Abrams, Abbas’ actions “really changed their [the Trump administration’s] opinion of him.”

By: World Israel News Staff
With files from JNS.org, AP and the Tower