Hamas and the Convergence - between a Rock and a Hard Place

Reut Institute contends that the rationale behind Israel's current policy toward Hamas conflicts with the rationale behind the Convergence Plan

In addition to the arrest of Hamas-affiliated PA Parliament members and ministers and the attack on the bureau of PA Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, the Israeli Air Force has raided the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and caused additional damage to the governmental infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority.

Since the beginning of the current crisis in the Gaza Strip, Israel has refused to conduct negotiations with the Palestinians. In addition, there have been statements made on certain occasions regarding Israel's attempt to overthrow the Hamas government.

The Reut Institute contends that the rationale of the Convergence Plan is not compatible with the rationale that has determined Israel's policy towards the PA since Hamas' electoral victory (1/06).

The rationale behind the Convergence Plan requires a Palestinian Authority with a dominant Hamas presence. The rationale behind Israel's current policy towards Hamas may undermine Israel's ability to implement the convergence Plan.

What is the Issue?

The Re'ut Institute identifies a contradiction between two organizing ideas that have been guiding Israel since Hamas' electoral victory (1/06) - the rationale behind Israel's current policy towards Hamas (hereinafter: "the Hamas rationale") and the "Convergence Plan rationale".

The Convergence Plan Rationale

The Convergence Plan serves Israel's existential interests - maintaining a Jewish majority and ending control over the Palestinians are Israel's existential interests. These interests have not been sufficiently protected by Israel's withdrawal from Palestinian cities (Area A) within the framework of the Oslo Accords. Ending Israel's responsibility for the West Bank requires "ending the occupation".

There is no Palestinian partner that can sign and implement an interim agreement or a permanent status agreement with Israel. Therefore, Israel should act unilaterally to end its control over the Palestinians.

There will be no Convergence without an "address" - The current shooting of Qassam rockets show that it would be very difficult to implement Convergence without a Palestinian address capable of enforcing a cease fire. Moreover, Israel may not be able to withdraw from the West Bank and end its responsibility in the absence of an address capable of supplying the basic needs of the population.

Therefore, an address is an essential prerequisite - A political entity capable of carrying out its policy is an essential, albeit insufficient, prerequisite for the implementation of the Convergence Plan (see: No Convergence without a Palestinian Address).

The address is the Palestinian Authority (PA) - The only constitutionally-viable political entity that can serve as an address in Gaza and the West Bank is the Palestinian Authority.

There can be no PA without Hamas - In order for the PA to be an address it needs constitutional authority, political ability and legitimacy:

  • Constitutionally, any government of the PA requires the support of an absolute majority in the Palestinian Legislative Council. Hamas holds approximately 60% of the PLC. Therefore, any government approved by the current PLC will necessarily be under Hamas control, or include Hamas representatives. Only the PLC (and not Abu Mazen) can declare its dissolution or new elections.
  • Politically, 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). 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 not receive popular Palestinian support.

Hence, it seems that in the foreseeable future, as long as Hamas remains within the political system of the PA it would be a dominant force in the PLC and government.

Therefore, if it follows the rationale of the Convergence Plan, Israel would need to conduct itself vis-à-vis the PA with dominant Hamas presence.

The Hamas Rationale

Three demands or paralysis:

  • Following Hamas' victory, Israel required that it adheres to three demands: explicitly recognizing Israel, reaffirming existing agreements and ending terror. Accepting these demands would constitute an ideological surrender of Hamas, the prospects for which are slim.
  • As long as Hamas does not accept these demands, Israel will attempt to paralyze its government. This approach was at the basis of the international political and economic boycott.

After the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, there have been calls to overthrow Hamas. This mindset was manifested in actions such as the arrest of Hamas ministers and PLC members and the bombing of the PA's Prime Minister's Bureau and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

However, while Israel can paralyze the Hamas government, it has not constitutionally viable way to overthrow its government (see: Can Israel Overthrow the Hamas Government??).

So far, Israel has refused any compromise regarding the three demands, and rejected any offer based on the Arab Peace Initiative (also known as the Saudi Initiative) or the Document of National Accord (also known as the Prisoners' Document).

Israel has also objected to the establishment of a Palestinian national unity government which would entail a new division of powers and authorities between the Prime Minister and the President and between Hamas and Fatah.

Why is This Important? Why Now?

Following the Hamas rationale would mean no political address and no political alternative -

It appears that the aforementioned "Hamas rationale" is the organizing idea behind Israel's policy towards the crisis in Gaza.

Following this rationale may lead to the annihilation of the Palestinian political address (see: Abbas threatens to Dismantle the PA, 7/11/06).

In such case Israel would not be able to promote any political plan relying on Palestinian delivery capability, including the Convergence Plan, in the foreseeable future.

Thus, the current conflict in Gaza, that has begun following the seemingly tactic kidnapping, is becoming a national security issue with strategic ramifications. Israel is approaching the point when it will need to choose between the two contrasting rationales.

Policy Options

Following the Hamas rationale would require Israel to prepare for expanding its responsibility over the Palestinians, possibly through the re-establishment of the civil administration (see: One-State Threat)

Following the Convergence Plan rationale would require:

  • The recognition of the PA as the Palestinian political address, even if it includes Hamas representatives; and
  • The establishment of such an address as a principal goal of the current conflict, alongside the goal of returning Gilad Shalit, ceasing the Qassam shooting and reaching a ceasefire of some sort (see: Hudna and Tahdiah).

This goal would require the establishment of a Palestinian national unity government between Hamas and Fatah, under the understandings achieved based on the Document of National Accord.

Such policy would require Israeli flexibility regarding the three demands and the international coalition aiming to paralyze Hamas and undermine its effective control over the PA.