Hamas Victory: An Opportunity for Israel?

The consequences of Hamas' victory in Gaza may offer the best opportunity in years to break the political stalemate amd create an effective address in the West Bank.

Calev Ben Dor, Jerusalem Post, 6/14/07.

Despite Israel’s natural inclination to view Hamas’ military victory over Fatah forces in Gaza with despair, the movement's complete control over Gaza may not be as bad as we fear. In fact, its consequences may offer the best opportunity in years to break the political stalemate by assisting in the creation of an effective address in the West Bank with which Israel can promote a political process.

The biggest obstacle to any progress between Israel and the Palestinians since 2000 has been the absence of either a partner or an ‘address’ on the Palestinian side. The reform of the Palestinian Basic Law in the context of the Roadmap was supposed to alleviate this by creating the role of Prime Minister to bypass Arafat. Yet the reform became an even greater constitutional millstone round the Palestinian political system’s neck after Arafat’s death and Hamas’ victory in the elections.

This led to constitutional dysfunction due to the overlap of powers and authorities between the position of Chairman, controlled by Fatah, and the government, controlled by Hamas.

With no legal way out of this crisis until new Palestinian elections in 2010, Israel was forced to bide its time hoping that its boycott policy would somehow change Hamas’ spots. As international support slowly eroded, and a humanitarian disaster in the PA looked on the cards, Israel’s choices were beginning to grow thin.

Yet Hamas’ disregard for the PA’s constitution by carrying out a military coup can work in Israel's favor. With a clear Fatah majority in the PLO, Abu Mazen could theoretically use the fighting as an opportunity to break the constitutional Gordian knot tying Palestinian hands by annulling the Basic Law and centralizing power and authority in the West Bank under his leadership. This new scenario would in effect create two separate political-territorial units alongside Israel – a Gaza Hamastan and a West Bank Fatah-land.

Instead of Israel being faced with no Palestinian address, it would suddenly be able to deal with two.

While no one celebrates the official presence of a Hamastan a few miles from Sderot, the new situation provides opportunities. The de-facto division between Gaza and the West Bank would allow Israel to maintain its boycott of Hamas in Gaza while utilizing the situation in the West Bank under the leadership of a potential partner. In this context, Israel should consider strengthening Abu Mazen through transferring funds, renewing the free movement of trade and lifting all constraints on cooperation with Fatah members.

For its part, Hamas may find that its victory over Fatah is only the beginning, not the end of its problems. It will need to deal with a hostile international community, tension with Egypt, internal ideological divisions and provision of services to Gaza’s civilian population. Similar to King Pyrrhus of Epirus' men whose victory over the Romans was so costly that they were subsequently defeated the next time around, Hamas may find that though it won the battle, it will ultimately lose the war.

We shouldn’t think the way ahead is easy or we’re on the verge of a Switzerland style utopian peace. Hamas isn’t disappearing any time soon, Fatah hasn’t suddenly turned into card carrying Zionists and Israeli society’s ability for large scale territorial compromise is yet to be fully tested.

But if we want to maintain Israel as a Jewish democratic State and prevent the inevitable slide towards anarchy and increased international isolation continued occupation would lead to, we need to find a Palestinian address to coordinate the establishment of a two state solution.

Recent events in Gaza may provide our best opportunity for some time to come.

This article was published in the Jerusalem Post (14/6).