‘Three-state’ reality emerges as Hamas-Dahlan leadership takes shape in Gaza
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Analysis

‘Three-state’ reality emerges as Hamas-Dahlan leadership takes shape in Gaza

Political reconciliation in Strip likely to defer war with Israel in short term, but lead to deadlier confrontation later

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, and Mohammad Dahlan, left, leave a news conference in Egypt, in February 2007. (AP/Amr Nabil)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, and Mohammad Dahlan, left, leave a news conference in Egypt, in February 2007. (AP/Amr Nabil)

Samir Mashrawi is coming back to Gaza. And his return suggests a political earthquake is about to strike the Strip.

Mashrawi is a loyalist of former Fatah leader and Mahmoud Abbas rival Mohammad Dahlan. Dahlan, the Fatah Preventive Security chief in the Strip, was once emphatically persona non grata for Hamas, and was ousted in the coup that put the Islamist terror group in power there 10 years ago

Mashrawi, regarded as Dahlan’s right-hand man and his key aide during periods of intense conflict with Hamas, was particularly loathed because of the central role he played in pursuing Hamas activists in 1996 and 1997. Notorious for shaving their beards off and arresting them for long periods, Mashrawi was one of the first to leave Gaza when tensions between Hamas and Fatah really heated up, during 2007.

But it was Hamas who announced his imminent homecoming. Top Hamas official Ahmad Yusuf conveyed the news Monday in an interview with a Jordanian newspaper. His return is part of an agreement taking shape between Dahlan, Hamas and Egypt, ostensibly to monitor the operation of a committee set up to help families with members who have been killed or injured.

Samir Mashrawi. (YouTube screenshot/AP)
Samir Mashrawi. (YouTube screenshot/AP)

In reality, Mashrawi’s return signifies reconciliation — not between Hamas and Fatah, but between Hamas and Dahlan’s Fatah faction.

What does this mean for Israel? Three points.

Firstly, as I have noted recently, the danger of war between Hamas’s Gaza and Israel is decreasing, for now.

The reconciliation deal between Dahlan and Hamas, currently being negotiated between senior Hamas members, Dahlan’s people and Egyptian intelligence, is supposed to pave the way for the opening of the Rafah crossing between the enclave and Egypt, Yusuf said, and the establishment of a new “management committee” — in other words, a de facto new government for Gaza.

This committee will include Hamas of course, representatives of the other Palestinian factions in the enclave, and Dahlan’s associates. The intended impact: an improvement in humanitarian conditions in the Strip, which will reduce the likelihood of war.

Which brings us to the second area of significance for Israel. The new arrangement will more completely separate Gaza from the West Bank.

A Palestinian state is being created right before our yes — albeit just in Gaza, without any connection to the West Bank. We will be seeing the emergence of a kind of “three-state” situation — Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza.

According to Yusuf, Hamas will remain responsible for security in Gaza, while in parallel, the new “committee,” incorporating Dahlan’s people, will oversee Gaza’s relations with the outside world. That means Dahlan’s people will have a presence at the Rafah crossing.

Egyptian trucks carrying fuel enter the southern Gaza Strip from Egypt through the Rafah border crossing on June 21, 2017. (AFP / SAID KHATIB)
Egyptian trucks carrying fuel enter the southern Gaza Strip from Egypt through the Rafah border crossing on June 21, 2017. (AFP / SAID KHATIB)

Unhappily, the third point is that if Rafah is fully opened for the movement of people and goods, Hamas’s preparations for war will gain momentum. Dahlan’s men will not stop the flow of Hamas weaponry or terrorists into Gaza.

That’s the trap: The new agreement decreases the likelihood of war with Israel in the short term but only delays the next day of reckoning. Hamas will be strengthened in the long term, and so will its confidence. When it comes, the next confrontation is likely to be deadlier and more dangerous for Israel.

The new agreement will mark Dahlan’s return to center stage — freshly empowered, in contrast to the perceived weakness of Abbas and senior Fatah figures in the West Bank.

Hamas in recent days rejected a proposed compromise agreement with Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, put forward by UN Middle East envoy Nikolay Mladenov, apparently because of the more attractive Egyptian-Dahlan possibilities.

UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov is interviewed on i24NEWS on February 21, 2017. (Screen capture/YouTube)
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Nickolay Mladenov is interviewed on i24NEWS on February 21, 2017. (Screen capture/YouTube)

The emerging agreement, made up of 15 clauses, heralds historic change on the political front, potentially formalizing the division between Gaza and the West Bank.

There is still no love is lost between Hamas and Dahlan — and that’s an understatement — or between Hamas and Mashrawi. Years of bitterness will not evaporate overnight. As soon as one side feels threatened by the other, the notion of reconciliation will disappear and they will be at war again. That’s what happened a decade ago.

But for now, all eyes are on the returning Mashrawi.

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