The Mohammed Dahlan-Hamas power-sharing deal: A chance for peace in Gaza?

In 2015, a United Nations report warned that as a consequence of the devastation produced by the Israeli-Egyptian blockade and several successive Israeli military operations, Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020.

In late July 2017, Haaretz reported that Hamas has successfully struck a power-sharing arrangement with Mohammed Dahlan, the former leader of the rival Fatah party in the Gaza Strip. While the details of the Egyptian and UAE brokered deal remain sketchy, it is probable that Dahlan’s supporters will return to Gaza and have a significant role in governing Gaza. In exchange for conceding elements of their power, Hamas will receive a new power station and benefit from the opening of the Rafah crossing.

This reported deal comes in the context of the dire humanitarian situation in Gaza. In 2015, a United Nations report warned that as a consequence of the devastation produced by the Israeli-Egyptian blockade and several successive Israeli military operations, Gaza could become uninhabitable by 2020. The politically motivated decision of Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas to reduce Fatah’s contribution to Hamas’s power bill has only exacerbated the situation, leaving the Strip with less than four hours of electricity per day.

Politically, Hamas has never been more isolated. Saudi Arabia sees the Islamist and democratically elected Hamas as a threat to its legitimacy, while Egypt accuses the movement of supporting the insurgency in the neighbouring Sinai region. In the wake of the ongoing Gulf Cooperation Council rift, the ability of Qatar to continue to support the movement remains uncertain.

On paper at least, the Dahlan-Hamas deal portends favourably for the establishment of a Palestinian state encompassing both Gaza and the West Bank. The easing of the Egyptian blockade and construction of a power plant in the Sinai should help revitalise the Gazan economy. making the creation of a Palestinian state eminently more viable.

Most importantly, the appointment of Dahlan and his allies could lessen the gulf between the Fatah and Hamas factions, making an enduring Hamas-Fatah rapprochement possible. As Dahlan and Abbas are bitter rivals this will not occur during Abbas’s tenure. However, given Abbas’s age and the fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians want him to quit, his days are numbered. Crucially, the creation of a moderate and united Fatah-Hamas front would allow representatives from both the West Bank and Gaza to be officially and directly involved in Palestinian-Israeli negotiations for the first time since 2007. This is clearly a prerequisite for peace in that all Palestinian factions must be involved in any comprehensive and lasting deal which will yield a meaningful peace dividend for Israel.

The moderating effect that Dahlan and his henchmen would likely have on Hamas would also heap international pressure on Israel to meaningfully negotiate. Indeed, as recently as 2014, citing concerns over ‘terrorism,’ Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu prematurely ended peace talks with Abbas because of the latter’s forging of a short-lived unity deal with Hamas.

The deal could also lead to peace on terms different from those envisaged by the current Oslo peace process. Some have speculated that the Dahlan ploy is part of a broader plan to create a Palestinian state in Gaza and parts of the Sinai, leaving the West Bank to be controlled by Israel and Jordan. For obvious reasons, Israel is a strong supporter of this proposed solution, as is the Trump administration.

But is this plan feasible? A Gaza-Sinai state obviously depends on the consent of Egypt, who lost thousands of men trying to regain the Sinai from Israel until the signing of the 1979 Camp David Accords. Given the recent furore over Egypt’s cessation of two relatively insignificant Red Sea islands to Saudi Arabia, it is hard to imagine that the Egyptian public would easily stomach parting with the Sinai. Moreover, if Hamas are indeed supporting the Sinai insurgency, it makes little sense to allow them to expand into the Peninsula, even under the supervision of Dahlan. Any perceived betrayal of fellow Arabs and coreligionists would also be received poorly by the Egyptian public.

Then there is the question of the Palestinians themselves. Normally, Hamas would relish the opportunity to expand their territory and economy. A key part of Hamas’s appeal has been its categorical pledge to liberate every ‘inch’ of historic Palestine, a goal which it maintains despite its recent pledge to at least temporarily accept a Palestinian state based on the 1967 ceasefire lines. It is therefore difficult to imagine that the creation of a Gaza-Sinai state and the compromises that this would entail would be favourably received by Hamas supporters. Questions also remain over whether Palestinians in Gaza, the diaspora and presumably the West Bank, would willingly relocate to what is an impoverished area, beset by insurgency.

In this sense, it is extraordinarily difficult to predict with any certainty the outcomes of the Dahlan-Hamas agreement. A joint Dahlan-Hamas government could very plausibly help or hinder the peace process. The only certainty is that any opening of the Egyptian frontier will provide long overdue humanitarian relief to a besieged people.

Henry Storey

Henry Storey

Henry Storey is studying a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Melbourne, majoring in Politics/International Studies, and History. Henry is currently a volunteer at Native Title Services Victoria and was recently the Australian Foreign Policy Fellow at Young Australians in International Affairs.

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