Why is Abbas staunchly opposed to a possible Israel-Hamas ceasefire deal?

PA chief doesn’t want to see the terror group that threw his Authority out in 2007 legitimized as ruler of the Strip

Adam Rasgon

Adam Rasgon is the Palestinian affairs reporter at The Times of Israel

PA President Mahmoud Abbas delivering a speech on August 15, 2018. (WAFA)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas delivering a speech on August 15, 2018. (WAFA)

Israel and Hamas have reportedly been indirectly negotiating a ceasefire deal in recent weeks through the Egyptian General Intelligence Services and United Nations Special Envoy to the Middle East Peace Process Nikolay Mladenov.

While the parties have not agreed on final terms — and there is no certainty that they will — a number of reports have mentioned that such a deal would provide for the end of violence and tensions in the border region between Gaza and Israel for a set period of time, a significant easing of Israel’s blockade on the Hamas-run Strip, and hundred of millions of dollars of investment in development projects in the territory.

Many Palestinians in Gaza, who have suffered through overwhelmingly inadequate hours of available electricity, excessively dirty drinking water, acutely high rates of unemployment and an overall dire humanitarian crisis, hope the possible agreement will come to fruition.

For Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, however, the prospect of a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas is anything but desirable.

Palestinian protesters throw stones at Israeli forces as a man waves the national flag during a demonstration at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on August 24, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

“Over my dead body, there will be a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas,” Abbas has said, an unnamed senior Fatah official told Israel’s Channel 10 on Tuesday.

One reason Abbas staunchly opposes such a deal is because he wants the PA to be in control of Gaza before it is achieved.

“It is not possible to talk about a ceasefire before we achieve reconciliation,” Hussein al-Sheikh, a close confidant of Abbas and Fatah Central Committee member, told PA television on Monday evening.

What al-Sheikh means by his comments is that no ceasefire deal can precede the implementation of an internal Palestinian reconciliation agreement which includes the PA retaking control of Gaza.

Hamas has controlled Gaza since it forcibly ousted the Fatah-dominated PA in 2007. While Fatah and Hamas have signed deals to bring Gaza under one government, they have repeatedly failed to implement them.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh gives a speech on the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday in Gaza City on August 21, 2018. (AFP Photo/Anas Baba)

“The PA is the only party that has the legitimacy to oversee the development of Gaza,” a senior Fatah official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Times of Israel. “Neither the Palestinian leadership nor the international community can allow for a party that illegally took over Gaza to manage the development of it… Otherwise the divide between the West Bank and Gaza will be further cemented.”

Another reason Abbas strongly stands against a possible ceasefire accord is that he believes the PLO alone should negotiate it.

“The PLO is the only party that can negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people,” said Ahmad Majdalani, a PLO Executive Committee member. “We are not against a ceasefire. In fact, we support a ceasefire, but the PLO must negotiate it. Hamas has no legitimacy to conclude it.”

PLO official Ahmad Majdalani (Facebook page)

Abbas and the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership often repeat the idea that the PLO “is the sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”

A ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas, which is not a member of the PLO, would appear to challenge that notion. It would seem to show that Israel and some members of the international community are prepared to work with Hamas and bypass the PLO and PA when dealing with Gaza.

A ceasefire deal would seem to isolate Abbas in Gaza, while legitimizing Hamas and its rule in the Strip, which he has bitterly fought since the group seized control of the territory.

“It is either the PLO that negotiates the deal or no one,” the senior Fatah official said.

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