Will Hamas give up arms for Palestinian reconciliation?

Future of reconciliation unclear as Hamas says disarming is not up for discussion, despite President Abbas’ demands.

Palestinian members of the al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, take part in an anti-Israel parade in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip
Members of the al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, in the southern Gaza Strip [File: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters]

As Fatah and Hamas, the two main Palestinian factions, strive to achieve national reconciliation, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has issued a demand that may throw a wrench into the negotiations. 

Last week, Abbas called on Hamas to surrender its weapons to the Palestinian Authority. The two sides are slated to meet in Cairo on Tuesday for Egyptian-brokered negotiations. 

The demand comes after more than a decade of division between Abbas’ Fatah party, which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, and its rival Hamas, which has de facto governed the besieged Gaza Strip since it took control of the coastal enclave after a 2007 putsch.

Hamas has sculpted itself as the only legitimate resistance to Israel’s ongoing occupation. However, speaking to Egyptian television last week, Abbas called for “one state, one regime, one law and one weapon”.

“I won’t accept the reproduction [in Gaza] of the Hezbollah experience in Lebanon,” Abbas said, referring to the Lebanese armed group and political organisation that controls much of the country’s south. 

Last month, Hamas announced the dissolution of its administrative committee, the political body that has administered Gaza as a result of the 2007 split. 

The group accepted the key conditions set by Abbas and expressed willingness to hold parliamentary elections in the occupied Palestinian territories. 

Last week, Hamas said that a National Consensus Government had officially taken over the governance of Gaza. 

The demand to disarm may prove to be a sticking point in the reconciliation drive, the latest talks after 10 years of failed attempts to achieve national unity. 

READ MORE: Hamas ready to reconcile with Fatah, say reports

Speaking to the local Ma’an News Agency, Hamas spokesperson Hazem Qassem insisted that the group’s weapons are not up for discussion, insisting that “the resistance’s weapons are legal”. 

“They are here to protect Palestinians and free their lands [from Israeli occupation],” Qassem said. “Therefore, this should not be an issue to discuss.”

Tariq Dana, policy adviser at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, does not expect Hamas to change its tune anytime soon. “It is difficult to imagine Hamas giving up its weapons for the sake of reconciliation,” he told Al Jazeera. 

“In truth, if this happens, it will not lead to a genuine reconciliation [agreement] but will rather reinforce Fatah’s dominance and autocratic governance over the Palestinian political spectrum and institutions.” 

In 2006, Hamas swept the Palestinian legislative elections, clenching 44.5 percent of the vote and securing 74 seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council. 

Following that vote, squabbling between Fatah and Hamas prevented the two from establishing a coalition. 

Abbas and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), which was dominated by Fatah, subsequently attempted to unseat the Hamas-led government.

Al Jazeera’s “Palestine Papers” investigation later revealed that MI6, the British intelligence agency, had originally drawn up the plans for the PA to remove Hamas. Meanwhile, the US helped train and build up the Presidential Guard, armed forces loyal to Abbas. 

In 2007, tensions boiled over into armed confrontations in Gaza, with Hamas effectively evicting Fatah and taking control of the besieged coastal enclave. 

That same year, with the help of Egypt, Israel imposed its ongoing blockade of Gaza, effectively regulating the flow of people, goods, medicines, foods and humanitarian supplies into and out of the territory. 

Since December 2008, Israel has carried out three major military offensives against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

During the latest war, which started in July 2014 and spanned 51 days, Israeli forces killed more than 2,200 people, most of them civilians. 

Earlier this month, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) conducted a poll that found two-thirds of Palestinians believe Abbas should resign, while half of those polled consider the Palestinian Authority a “burden on the Palestinian people”. 

If Hamas lays down its weapons, it will no longer exist as a liberation movement, and therefore it will lose the popularity and legitimacy that lie at the core of its power.

by Tariq Dana, policy adviser at Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network

Al-Shabaka’s Dana explained that much of the legitimacy Hamas has gained in the eyes of Palestinians was rooted in their disillusionment with the Palestinian Authority’s unsuccessful negotiations with Israel.

Dana said: “Hamas gained respect among large segments of the Palestinians because of its militant activities against the Israeli occupation.” 

He added: “If Hamas lays down its weapons, it will no longer exist as a liberation movement, and therefore it will lose the popularity and legitimacy that lie at the core of its power.” 

Mukhaimer Abu Saada, a political science professor at Gaza’s al-Azhar University, estimated that most Palestinians in Gaza, including those who do not support Hamas, are opposed to disarming the group. 

“They see what’s happening to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank – the Israeli army carrying out raids every night and extremist settlers attacking civilians – and they don’t want the same thing to happen here,” he told Al Jazeera. 

“My hunch is that the majority of Palestinians in Gaza are against Hamas or any resistance group disarming because we are still under occupation and siege,” he added. “Gaza could be the target of more Israeli aggression at any moment.” 

But for Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, allowing Hamas to hang on to its weapons could translate into a repeat of the 2007 fighting that led to the latter’s takeover of Gaza. 

READ MORE: ‘All options are open’ – Will Gaza join the uprising?

Explaining that he does not expect Hamas to agree to abandon arms, Abu Saada predicted that the issue would be put off until future discussions.

“It’s a very complicated issue,” he said. “The issue will need very deep discussion between Hamas and Fatah.” 

Tholfikar Sweirjo, a member of the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s political committee in Gaza, said that the Palestinian left “fully supports the reconciliation” efforts. 

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Sweirjo argued that Gaza is bound for yet another war with Israel if a political solution is not reached to ease the suffering of the besieged population.

“If peace prevails, Hamas will agree to allow its weapons to be under the control of the unity government,” he said. 

But if reconciliation efforts fail and another confrontation breaks out with Israel, he expects al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of Hamas, to maintain its weapons and “conduct resistance”. 

Each day that passes without a resolution between Fatah and Hamas, Sweirjo added, the situation in Gaza grows increasingly “catastrophic”. 

Against this backdrop, more than 60 percent of Palestinians are pessimistic about the reconciliation talks, according to the PCPSR poll. 

“If there is no progress, we are heading for a military confrontation that will be different than [previous wars],” he concluded. 

Source: Al Jazeera