While Gaza presents Israel with a military and security challenge, the government in Ramallah is challenging Israel's very legitimacy and identity
By Pinhas Inbari
WJC, Last week Israel was twice tested by the Palestinian leadership. On the one hand, its territory was bombarded by missiles out of Gaza, while on the other, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was admitted to UNESCO as a permanent member of the organization. These events illustrate the challenges Israel is facing with regard to Hamas and the Fatah, Gaza and Ramallah, and the decisions and choices it must make.
While Gaza presents Israel with a military and security challenge, the government in Ramallah is challenging Israel's very legitimacy and identity. Immediately after the vote in UNESCO, the PLO announced its plans to question Israel's connection to the holy land in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) and on the entirety of Israel’s territory. It also announced its plans to pursue legal action against Israel for the "identity-stealing" of the Arab character of Palestine, Judaizing the legacy of Jerusalem and antiquities theft. The PLO will task UNESCO with the mission of reconstructing the genuine Arab character of the land, allegedly distorted by Israel.
It has been suggested that Israel's government actually prefers dealing with Hamas instead of the Fatah, as it does not essentially confront the Hamas government in Gaza, but its rival – the Islamic Jihad. Moreover, Hamas – through Egypt – is cooperating with Israel by calming down the tensions and stopping the missiles attacks on Israel, in contrast to Ramallah, who is directly confronting Israel in UNESCO and other international bodies.
Surprisingly, Israel's neighbor Jordan also prefers Hamas over the government in Ramallah. It was reported that the new prime minister of Jordan, Awn al-Khassawneh, declared that closing down Hamas’ headquarters in Amman in 1999 was a mistake. It was even reported that a visit by Khaled Mash'al in the royal palace would be welcomed by king Abdallah in the near future.
The PLO's success with UNESCO is thus clouded by Hamas communication with Israel via Egypt and the looming possibility of the return to their headquarters in Amman. Jordan is troubled by the PLO joining UNESCO because until now Jordan represented Jerusalem at the organization. The Palestinians are now asking it to step aside and relinquish custody of the al-Aqsa mosque. This matter is not taken lightly in Amman, which may be more amenable to improving relations with Hamas as a way to get back at the PLO.
On his part, PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas still plans to retire. Abbas has tried to arrange a meeting with Hamas' Khaleed Mashal to coordinate early elections that will end his tenure in office, but so far to no avail. For Hamas, elections do not constitute a priority. Nor does the organization trust Fatah to run a fair election in the West Bank, claiming that the Palestinian Legislative Council could go another ten years without an election, as it has under Fatah. In addition, Hamas is demanding that Fayyad's government be ended and the US-trained Dayton forces be dispersed.
However, in contrast to the PLO, Hamas is against the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority because it provides legitimacy and power to an organization that would otherwise be considered as a mere militia.
Hamas is faced with its own challenges in Gaza. While trying to improve its status as a regional player, it is besieged by internal trouble in the form of Iran-supported Islamic Jihad, unhappy about the Schalit deal. It is telling that the commander of the Qassam Brigades, the military arm of Hamas, Ahmad Ja'bari, has come out of hiding and now moves about freely in Gaza, unafraid of being targeted by Israel. The Palestine Resistance Committees and Fatah believe this new development is a direct consequence of the Schalit deal, which has given Hamas further opportunities to steer away from the 'resistance' policy in Gaza.
The choice between running a government or pursuing a policy of resistance is the real test Hamas is facing — not only with regard to Israel, but also in its relations with Jordan and Egypt. Time will tell if Hamas is as able at running a government as it is at running the 'resistance'.