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Arab Factionalism in Gaza Electric Deal

Walter Russell Mead

Last week, at the request of the Palestinian Authority, Israel shut off electricity supplies to the Gaza strip following an end to fuel shipments from the PA in April that power Gaza’s lone power plant. Now, that flow of fuel has resumed, the lights are back on, and a potential crisis averted thanks to what a week ago would have looked like a surprising deal. As the AP reports:

The sole power plant in electricity-starved Gaza Strip sputtered back to life Thursday after receiving fuel from Egypt — a shipment that resulted from a surprising alliance between bitter ex-rivals, including the territory’s ruling Hamas and an exiled former Gaza strongman.

Egypt’s shipment of 1 million liters of fuel undercut a high-stakes campaign by Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who is trying to weaken Hamas by gradually reducing the flow of electricity to the territory he lost to the militants in 2007. [….]

… [Other] factors appear to play a role, including Egyptian support for Mohammed Dahlan, an exiled Palestinian official with presidential ambitions. The former Gaza strongman had bitterly fought Hamas a decade ago, became Abbas’ top aide after losing that battle and then fell out with the Palestinian leader in 2010.

Dahlan helped persuade Egypt to send the badly needed fuel to Gaza, in exchange for Hamas allowing him to broaden his political presence in Gaza, according to officials involved in the negotiations.

This should serve as a reminder, if anyone still needs it, that the “Gaza blockade” that embittered BDS types keep blaming Israel for is anything but an Israeli responsibility. Gaza has a border with Egypt; Israel has no control of this border. No “blockade” of Gaza is possible without it being a joint Arab-Israeli undertaking.

Also implicated in the “blockade” is Abbas. He wants Gaza back, and thinks this is a good moment to go for it. It is the PA, not Israel, which is cutting off the funding for fuel in Gaza. Again, it is the Palestinians and the Egyptians who are responsible for what is happening or not happening in Gaza in terms of trade and economics. Abbas is squeezing Hamas because of a general feeling that Hamas is weakening.

Hamas seems to agree with the diagnosis that its grip on Gaza is weakening—or at least that it could use some shoring up. It has been making concessions to Mohammed Dahlan, the PA-affiliated leader whom Hamas ousted from Gaza more than a decade ago. In return, Dahlan—whom the Egyptians quite like—has been using his influence to broker some kind of agreement between Hamas, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, and Egypt’s Sisi, who hates the Muslim Brotherhood.

Abbas presumably hates all this, as the detente between Egypt, Dahlan, and Hamas significantly reduces his chances at one of the few concrete accomplishments to which he can still aspire: reuniting the splintered Palestinian nation.

He probably won’t succeed, as all Palestinian factions these days are too weak and too poor to avoid leaning on foreign protectors and paymasters. None of these foreign forces—whether Western, Saudi and UAE, Qatar, Turkey, Iran, Egypt—want a strong and united Palestinian movement that can call its own shots and control its own destiny.

It also shows how thin the bonds between the Saudi-UAE coalition on the one hand and Egypt on the other really are. Egypt appears to be breaking from the Saudi-UAE united approach on Qatar and its ally Hamas. This partly reflects Egypt’s concerns about internal security and the Sinai. Egyptians may believe that they can have a better chance at stopping terrorist attacks and MB subversion by doing a deal now with a Hamas that it is weak and worried. Long term, they would like to install a pro-Egyptian ruler in Gaza. It also reflects Egypt’s unwillingness to subordinate itself to the leadership of any other Arab state; Egyptians still feel that they are and ought to be at the center of Arab politics, and that Egypt is an independent actor whom no one can take for granted.

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