No Palestinian Address without Hamas

Re'ut Institute contends that without Hamas there can be no political address on the Palestinian side. Such address is necessary for the implementation of the Convergence Plan.

The arrest of the Hamas ministers, the attack on PM Haniyeh's bureau, the military raid of the Hamas' social welfare system ("Dawah") and statements made by Israeli officials may imply that Israel is aiming to overthrow the Hamas government.

Re'ut Institute contends that without Hamas there can be no political address on the Palestinian side. In recent publications Re'ut has argued that such an address is a prerequisite for the implementation of the Convergence Plan and that Israel may not be able to overthrow Hamas in a constitutionally viable way.

What is the Issue?

The Re'ut Institute contends that the existence of a Palestinian political address is a necessary, albeit insufficient, condition for the implementation of the Convergence Plan (See: No Convergence without a Palestinian Address).

The Re'ut Institute defines "address" as a political entity which possesses the ability to implement policies it wishes to pursue. It includes the following components: (1) infrastructural and physical resources; (2) legitimacy; (3) constitutional authority; (4) political ability (See concepts: Address and Partner).

The Palestinian Authority (PA) is the formal address in Gaza and the West Bank.

Due to amendments made in 2003 to the Palestinian Basic Law, the PA is currently undergoing a constitutional crisis, stemming from contradictions and overlaps between the powers and authorities of the Prime Minister and those of the President. (See: The Palestinian Elections - towards Institutional Dysfunction, 12/05).

The crisis has escalated following the elections (1/06) in which Hamas won the absolute majority (60%) of the seats in the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and Haniyeh was appointed Prime Minister. The crisis has become apparent in political struggles over issues of economy, security and foreign affairs.

Following the elections, Israel has built an international coalition based on three demands: recognizing Israel, re-affirming existing agreements and ending violence.

At the outset of the current crisis in Gaza, Fatah and Hamas reached an agreement of national unity, based on the Document of National Accord (also known as "Prisoners' Document").

Why is this Important? Why Now?

In order for the PA government to become a viable political address it needs to have constitutional status, political ability and legitimacy:

  • Constitutionally, any government approved by the current PLC will be under Hamas control, or include Hamas representatives. If new elections are held in the near future, Hamas would likely sustain its power (according to a recent survey, Ha'aretz, 7/4/06).
  • Politically, even if Fatah wins the next elections, it would not be able to build a coalition without Hamas.
  • In terms of legitimacy, any Fatah government established against the backdrop of Israel's actions against Hamas may be perceived as illegitimate.

Therefore, in the foreseeable future, as long as Hamas takes part in the political system of the PA, it will maintain significant influence, both in the PLC and in government.

Israel's recent actions may imply that it is aiming to overthrow the Hamas government. There is no doubt that Israel can paralyze the Hamas government by arresting its officials.

However, there is great doubt whether Israel can legally overthrow the Hamas government and establish a Fatah-led government. Therefore, such attempt may result in undermining the control of the PA to the point of its collapse (See: Can Israel Overthrow the Hamas Government?).

Furthermore, a substantive solution to the constitutional crisis would require an amendment to the Palestinian Basic Law limiting the powers and authorities of either the President or the Prime Minister. Since Hamas controls the PLC, most chances are that such amendment would increase Haniyeh's power.

Policy Options

The government of the PA is the only entity that can be considered an address for Israel concerning the territories of Gaza and the West Bank. According to this analysis, it seems that without substantive Hamas presence, the PA government would not qualify as an address.

If Israel wishes to turn the PA into an address, it will have to tolerate Hamas' leadership.

In this context, it is possible that the establishment of a national unity government, on the basis of the Document of National Accord, is currently the only path to a viable address. Therefore, it seems that Israel may have to make concessions regarding the three demands.