Hamas Makes Steps Toward Palestinian Unity Government
Hamas dissolved the Gaza administrative committee on September 17 as per one of the demands made by the President Abbas in a step towards a Palestinian unity government. Abbas views the committee as a parallel “quasi-government” to the Palestinian Authority, the government body led by Abbas that operates in the West Bank. Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2007, when it forcibly expelled Fatah officials from the territory and seized administrative control. While there have been several failed attempts at negotiations aimed at creating a unity government in the past, Hamas has recently stated its willingness to hand over power to a unity government following talks with Fatah mediated by Egypt.
In the 2006 Gaza parliamentary elections, Hamas beat Fatah, and the Hamas government was sworn in after Fatah refused to coalesce with the fringe party. Additionally, many countries, including the United States and members of European Union, refused to recognize Hamas in retaliation against its failure to recognize Israel as a sovereign state. Abbas from Fatah and Ismail Haniyeh from Hamas attempted to form a unity government, but outbreaks of violence culminated in Hamas, overrunning Fatah compounds. The two parties pressed further for a unity government, but Hamas fired rockets into Israel as the officials took office, resulting in the removal of Fatah officials from the territory.
Since the violent conflict between Hamas and Fatah in 2006, the Gaza and West Bank territories have been governed separately. The parties have failed multiple times at negotiating an end to the feud; in 2011, 2012, and 2014, the two parties were unable to agree on details of a national unity government after beginning talks.
Hamas formed the recently dissolved administrative committee in March 2017. In response, President Abbas requested, on behalf of the Palestinian Authority government body that controls the West Bank, that Israel reduce the electricity supply to Gaza in an attempt to worsen the public opinion of Hamas and pressure it to renounce administrative control of Gaza. Yoav Mordechai, the head of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories in Israel, confirmed that Israel complied with the request and added that the Palestinian Authority reduced the salary of its 60,000 employees in Gaza by 30 percent.
On September 19, Hamas asked President Abbas to end sanctions on Gaza in response to the dissolution of the administrative committee. Ismail Haniyeh, the political leader of Hamas, also stated that he hopes reconciliation with Fatah will improve relations with Egypt. Hamas depends on Egypt economically; as relations deteriorated with Egyptian President Sisi, Egypt closed its border with Gaza, accused Hamas of supporting militants in the Sinai peninsula, and isolated Qatar, a major funder of Hamas, in the ongoing blockade.
Analysts point to several issues that could afflict the formation of a unity government. Both sides seem unwilling to compromise; Fatah officials have stated that they won’t allow Hamas to continue operating independent military and security forces, and they have not made plans regarding elections, a topic that has deterred negotiation efforts in the past. However, Hamas has attempted to take a more moderate stance through its publication of a new policy document. In the document, though Hamas still refuses to recognize Israel, it states that it would accept the pre-1967 borders which separate Israel from the West Bank and Gaza.
The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Nickolay Mladenov, welcomed the announcement of these talks and offered the UN’s assistance. The two parties have yet to meet face-to-face in the negotiations, but plan on doing so down the line. Additionally, the head of the Fatah delegation to Cairo stated that other Palestinian factions would join the negotiations.