Hamas throws political lifeline to Abbas by accepting Gaza ceasefire, analysts say

War has undermined President's Palestinian Authority and his Fatah faction

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas faced anger from some quarters for not mounting the PA's own armed resistance against Israel. Reuters
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The Gaza ceasefire deal that Hamas accepted on Monday could, once concluded, re-establish the Palestinian Authority as a western ally at peace with Israel, observers have said.

Diplomatic activity has become focused on convincing Israel to accept the deal, which is linked to the release of hostages taken by Hamas on October 7, as well as a large number of Palestinians held by Israel.

The deal also envisages reconstruction, without mention of the PA, which is led by President Mahmoud Abbas and dominated by the Fatah faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation.

Washington, however, has been recently discussing with Arab allies its postwar role for a reformed PA in Gaza, as well as the restoration of a democratic rule in PA-run areas in the occupied West Bank, diplomats and other regional sources say.

A senior PA official told The National that Hamas had been sufficiently weakened that it would not oppose the PA, its main rival, taking over administrative functions in Gaza.

Significant support in Gaza has developed for the PA to come in, given the carnage inflicted on the enclave by Israel, the official said.

“Our position is that a ceasefire should result in the hostages going back, the Gazans going back to their homes and reconstruction,” he said.

Israel has yet to officially respond to the draft ceasefire agreement reached by US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators. Its takeover of the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt indicates that it intends to press on with the war.

The PA’s position was diminished by the Hamas attack on southern Israel in October.

As Israel was bombing Gaza, it made incursions into the occupied West Bank to hunt Hamas cells, it said, as well as local armed groups that had formed.

Settler violence against Palestinian civilians intensified, and the economic conditions in the West Bank deteriorated, with towns besieged by Israeli troops.

There was anger against the PA and Mr Abbas from some quarters for not mounting its own armed resistance against Israel.

Israel, the Palestinian official said, wants division to continue and the security situation in Gaza “to remain a mess”.

The official said that the PA and Hamas did not discuss the issue in any serious way during rounds of reconciliation talks that have taken place during the latest war. Publicly, however, the PA has been supportive of Hamas.

They want to be able to keep telling the world that the Palestinians can never govern themselves
Senior Palestinian Authority official

In Ramallah, Fatah spokesman Abdulfattah Dawlah said that Hamas had “thrown the ball into Israel’s court” by accepting the ceasefire deal.

It also made it harder for Israel to attack the Rafah pocket, where about 1.5 million Gaza residents have taken refuge, and where Israel says core Hamas members are hiding.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “will try very hard to sabotage the deal”, Mr Dawlah said.

Israel has also opposed a postwar role for the PA in Gaza, saying that it cannot be trusted.

Tahani Mustafa, senior Palestine analyst at the Crisis Group, said if a deal is struck it “would serve the PA well”.

The Gaza war has been “an existential crisis for the PA and has plummeted their popularity”, she said.

The PA's response to the war, such as “not doing enough on the diplomatic front to push for a ceasefire”, was regarded by the Palestinian population as “abhorrent”.

“It serves the PA well to have a ceasefire in Gaza,” she said.

Although Washington wants a PA-like entity to run Gaza, it will not be able to operate in Gaza without the blessing of Hamas, Ms Mustafa said.

“The PA can’t exclude Hamas from the process. Hamas need to consent to the PA taking over the government.”

The PA was in charge of Gaza from the time of the Israeli withdrawal in 2005 until a Palestinian civil war the following year resulted in Hamas taking control of the enclave.

Hazem Ayyad, a veteran Jordanian researcher who specialises in Palestinian affairs, said the PA was keen on any role in a post-ceasefire phase, however subservient to Israel.

PA personnel, Mr Ayyad said, could end up staffing crossings and enforcing Israeli restrictions on movement of goods and people into Gaza.

But in the long run, the PA and Fatah will be incurring “more damage”, he said.

Updated: May 09, 2024, 7:23 AM