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"Hamas cannot be a contributing force in the peace plan, only a disruptive one"

Ohad Hemo, Palestinian Affairs Correspondent for the Israel Television News Company


What does Hamas believe it stands to gain from the Trump peace plan?

Hamas objects, and will continue to object, to any plan Trump presents. No matter what the final layout is, the plan will not come close to the Palestinian Authority's (PA) legitimacy threshold – let alone Hamas’s.

Trump’s plan presents Hamas with a single opportunity: finding some common ground with the PA, whose leadership will most likely reject the plan as well. This alignment of interests may drive Hamas and the PA into each other's arms. At present, reconciliation with the PA is the most important interest for the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip. Over the past months, Hamas has given its consent to measures that were previously considered taboo – for example, the entrance of the PA’s armed forces to the Gaza Strip. Such reconciliation can help stabilize Hamas government in Gaza. Since self-preservation is the movement's top interest in Gaza at the moment, any peace plan that would facilitate better relationship with the PA can benefit Hamas.

Ohad Hamo

Photo: facebook, with permission

What does it fear it might lose?

Almost everything. As far as Hamas is concerned, allowing Trump’s peace plan to move forward might be the beginning of its demise. Any peace plan presented by the American administration will aspire to unite the Gaza Strip and the West Bank and establish a Palestinian state with a single leadership in that territory. That state will not be reigned by Hamas. There could be no greater loss than that to the organization.

The Trump peace plan will not be able to meet any of Hamas's basic principles. For example, unverified reports suggest that Trump will offer the East Jerusalem neighborhood Abu Dis as the capital of the future Palestinian state. This would be very far from the minimum terms that Hamas's principles state for contemplating any sort of agreement with Israel. To take another example, Hamas persistently demands a full right of return of Palestinians to the Palestinian state, as well as into Israeli territory. No viable peace plan that Trump may endorse can ever meet this threshold.

Additionally, any peace plan will dictate that Hamas dismantles its military wing, since a Palestinian state will not be able to obtain international legitimacy if armed Hamas militants can continue to operate freely within its territory. However, this is another clear red line of Hamas, whose members will not agree to disarm.  
In conclusion, Hamas has almost nothing to gain and much to lose from any plan presented by the Trump administration.

How can Hamas contribute to promoting the peace plan?

The most basic step would be, of course, to accept it. But as noted above, the chances for that are extremely low. Therefore, the most significant step Hamas can take is to promote international rehabilitation efforts in the Gaza Strip. Apart from that, it can agree to stop resistance activities against Israel and promote reconciliation with the PA – but not much more than that.

Which obstacles is Hamas liable to mount, and how can it sabotage the process?

In the military arena, Hamas has many options if it wishes to disrupt the peace plan. These include launching terror attacks, keep endorsing the marches of return, and attempting to ignite violence on the Israel-Gaza border and in the West Bank. Hamas has been trying to instigate violent resistance in PA-controlled territory for several years now, so far without much success. However, if put up against the wall, Hamas might decide to further its effort out of belief that the end justifies all means.

In the diplomatic arena, Hamas has almost no political leverage to influence Palestinian foreign relations. The tragedy of Hamas, in the eyes of its leadership, is its complete isolation in the international arena. Only Turkey and Qatar could currently be perceived as its patrons. Turkey has enough problems and interests of its own, and Hamas does not rank high on its agenda. Qatar is currently isolated because of its affiliation with Iran, as well as the boycott imposed on it a year ago by Sunni Arab states led by Saudi Arabia.

Hamas is making substantial efforts to become a legitimate entity among the nations. Its willingness to negotiate a reconciliation with the PA – and allowing a permanent presence of PA personnel and institutions in Gaza - is closely connected with this goal. However, Hamas in its current form does not really have the capacity to be accepted as a legitimate actor in the global arena. For that reason, it also cannot offer its own alternative to the Trump peace initiative.

Raising the Saudi initiative anew is also not an option for Hamas, because it includes a true acceptance of Israel in return for a withdrawal to the 1967 borders, which is contrary to Hamas's raison d'être. It can offer a truce (tahdiya or hudna) with Israel for a certain period of time in return for rehabilitating Gaza, but overall, these are tactical measures, not true aspirations to end the conflict.

The bottom line is that any plan presented by Washington will necessarily come at the expense of Hamas. For this reason, the organization cannot constitute a contributing force within the plan, but only a disruptive one to it.

Ohad Hemo is the Palestinian Affairs Correspondent for the Israeli Television News Company. He has worked in the three Israeli main channels, where he has been covering the Palestinian field for the past 15 years. He holds a Bachelor's degree in Political Science from Tel Aviv University, and a Master's degree in Orientalism from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

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