As the Biden administration takes shape and prepares for the White House, the outcome of the U.S. presidential elections appears to have ended pretenses of reconciliation by bitter Palestinian rivals Hamas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority (PA).
The PA has announced that it is resuming security coordination with Israel, and this in turn raises the likelihood of an uptick in anti-Hamas security operations by PA security forces in the West Bank.
In May, the PA announced that it was suspending security coordination with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), in protest over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's intent to annex some West Bank land, and as part of a broader push back against the Trump Administration's peace plan, which envisioned a Palestinian state on roughly 70 percent of the West Bank.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas is relieved that the Trump administration, which promoted several policies that led to unprecedented crises between Washington and Ramallah, is departing the stage, and is looking to the new U.S. administration to reestablish ties with the PA.
As part of its recent distress and isolation, the PA had begun, at least publicly, inching towards the Muslim Brotherhood camp, most notably by taking part in September's Turkish-mediated talks with the militant Islamist Hamas movement.
Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip since June 2007, the year that it ousted the Fatah-led PA in a bloody takeover, turning the territory into an armed Islamist fortress, and raising up a terrorist army ever since.
Hamas's military wing, currently under the command of Muhammad Def, has fired 12,000 rockets and 5,000 mortars from Gaza, according to the IDF. Since the 1990s, it launched 90 deadly suicide bombings, killing hundreds of Israeli civilians.
The head of Hamas in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, has systematically prioritized building up his military wing over the basic needs of Gaza's 2 million civilians, but he also is interested in averting an economic-humanitarian collapse in Gaza, leading him to accept ceasefires with Israel. Nevertheless, throughout this time, Hamas has not stopped its routine attempts to build terror cells in the West Bank, and launch attacks against Israelis.
Meanwhile, Sinwar also remains preoccupied with the sharp rise in coronavirus cases in Gaza in recent weeks.
Hamas has condemned the PA's decision to re-establish security coordination with Israel and called it a setback to its own reconciliation efforts with the PA. "The [Palestinian] Authority has with this step thrown aside all its values and national principles, and the result of the historical meeting between Hamas and Fatah's leadership," a Hamas statement said last week.
Abbas's decision to return to coordination with Israel is part of a signal he is sending to the incoming Biden administration, which is intended to "portray him as one of the good guys," Col. (res.) Moshe Elad, one of the founders of the security coordination between the IDF and the Palestinian Authority, told the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
In that respect, the U.S. elections "have already had an influence," Elad, a lecturer at the Western Galilee College in northern Israel, added.
Hamas is ideologically committed to taking over the West Bank as it did in Gaza, meaning that the PA's security coordination with Israel is an act of self-preservation on Ramallah's part.
In the past, Israeli intelligence and security forces exposed Hamas plots to harm and even topple the PA in the West Bank, although most of Hamas's terror infrastructure in the area is designed to generate attacks on Israeli targets.
"Will security coordination return? In my view, it didn't stop, even during the so-called disconnect," argued Elad. He described the PA's May announcement of an end to coordination as "symbolic," adding that a true cessation of coordination would have created enormous damage to the PA, allowing Hamas and other rivals to build up their power at its expense.
"The damage to the PA from a full cessation of coordination would have been much bigger [than the damage to Israel]," said Elad. "Take, for example, VIP passage rights granted by Israel to PA officials. The PA can't operate without that. Their officials couldn't pass through Jerusalem."
The cooperation also includes coordinating responses to the daily needs of Palestinian civilians, including water and electricity. A full renewal of relations would occur gradually, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center assessed in a report last Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Hamas institutions in the West Bank remained under PA pressure during the months of frozen security coordination with Israel, Elad said. "It's not possible to suddenly turn a foe into a friend," he said, describing relations between the PA and Hamas in the West Bank.
Repressing Hamas activities requires "constant work," Elad noted, and any let-up in these efforts could undermine the PA's sustainability.
Anti-Hamas operations are led by the PA's head of the General Intelligence Service (GIS) Majed Farej, who is also a member of the Fatah Revolutionary Council. "Faraj is the most hated among Hamas's people. They say that he pursues them even when it's not necessary, that he works like Israel," said Elad.
Israel-PA coordination usually includes PA alerts to Israel about Hamas terror plots against Israeli targets.
At the same time, Elad said, "there is no civil war between Hamas and Fatah in the West Bank. Most of Hamas's efforts are against Israel."
"There have also been attacks on the PA in the West Bank, but not necessarily only by Hamas. Groups, mainly in Nablus, have challenged Abbas, claiming that he is working against them with the PA's security forces. So they attack the PA's forces."
Many members of these groups are former PA security force personnel. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian (PFLP) has also challenged the PA in the West Bank.
Ultimately, Elad said, Hamas–Fatah reconciliation efforts are doomed to fail, as the long list of unsuccessful attempts made since 2007 has demonstrated.
"Not once has it succeeded. The significance is that this latest effort too will fail," he said. "They will categorically not draw closer, for many reasons."
These include the searing memory harbored by Fatah personnel over the blood of their fellow Fatah members spilled by Hamas in Gaza in 2007, as well as a lengthy litany of mutual recriminations.
"Nothing has changed. The fact that Biden's arrival caused this latest reconciliation effort to stop shows that it's simply a circus, that there's nothing real behind it," said Elad.
Yaakov Lappin is a military and strategic affairs correspondent. He also conducts research and analysis for defense think tanks, and is the military correspondent for JNS. His book, The Virtual Caliphate, explores the online jihadist presence.
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