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The Hamas Takeover of Gaza: Implications for Israel

Posted: June 15, 2007

The Hamas military takeover of Gaza is a major development in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but exactly how it will play out is unclear.

Impact on Peace Efforts

It has to be viewed as a setback to hopes for peace because it demonstrates even more than before the weakness and lack of leadership of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah movement.  If talk about reaching agreements for peace with the moderate camp were far-fetched before these events, now the relevance of any agreement that might be reached with Fatah is remote.

Impact on Israel's security

On the one hand, the fact that Gaza no longer is under Hamas-Fatah mixed control suggests that if Israel is again struck by rockets or terror out of Gaza, that Israel will have more flexibility in responding because it won't be a case of undermining the moderates in Gaza.

On the other hand, dangers increase of even greater ties of Hamas to Iran and other radical fundamentalists which could lead to more sophisticated missiles threatening Israel.

Humanitarian issues

Humanitarian problems among the Palestinians are certain to be exacerbated as a result of recent events.  Israel is aware of this, knows that it needs to make sure that humanitarian aid continues to flow, and knows as well that no matter the condemnation of Hamas, the world will insist on the people's right to food and aid.

In this regard, both Israel and Hamas will have decisions to make on dealing with each other Israel in whether to coordinate the movement of aid (before Israel dealt with the Palestinian Authority) and Hamas which refuses to deal with Israel as part of its rejection of the Jewish state.

Impact on the West Bank

The West Bank is very different from Gaza, primarily in that Fatah is much stronger there and because Israel maintains a presence.

Regarding Fatah strength, events in Gaza should be a wake-up call.  The election of Hamas two years ago and its military victory in Gaza point to the same Fatah weaknesses: corruption, lack of direction and motivation, and lack of leadership.  Even if Fatah is much stronger today, if Fatah doesn't get its act together (or a new moderate force emerges) the combination of Fatah weakness and Hamas efforts to cultivate support through social service programs and a clearer image, could in time even threaten Fatah's hold on the West Bank.

As to Israel's role, the experience in Gaza makes Israel even less likely to consider withdrawing from the West Bank as long as there is a sense that it too will eventually become a radicalized area on its doorstep.  Israel undoubtedly will continue to make life difficult for Hamas operatives in the West Bank.

Role of international forces and/or other Arab countries

Since Israel is not interested in re-entering Gaza on a permanent basis, there will be discussions on what role on the ground international or Arab forces can play.  Already such discussions are taking place with regard to the Philadelphi road to prevent more smuggling of arms.

Israel historically has opposed such forces in the territories, but in light of many developments -- Hamas victories, missiles directed at Israel, the reluctance to go back in, the relative positive attitude towards the new UNIFIL force in Lebanon -- there may be a new openness in Israel on the subject.

As to the West Bank, if chaos looms there as well, there will be renewed speculation on a revived Jordanian role (which ended in 1988 with King Hussein's speech).  Jordan has been reluctant to get too involved again, but if true radical threats were to emerge, a Jordanian option might come into play again.

Impact on US-Israel Relations

There will be some who argue that Israel must do more to prop up Mahmoud Abbas.  But the deeper question is whether the U.S. and Israel have a strong enough moderate partner among the Palestinians and, if not, where to turn.

Internal reform of Fatah should now become a priority of American policy and policy of Arab moderate states.

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