Opinion

The Hamas takeover of Gaza killed the two-state solution

U.S. pressure against the Atarot housing project north of Jerusalem was likely meant to keep the two-state option alive.

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar at a rally in Beit Lahiya on May 30, 2021. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar at a rally in Beit Lahiya on May 30, 2021. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Hillel Frisch
Hillel Frisch
Hillel Frisch is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and an expert on the Arab world at The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

Earlier this month, Israel postponed a large housing project in Atarot, north of Jerusalem, where a Jewish settlement once stood.

The project aimed to provide up to 9,000 homes for the Haredi community. The move came after a conversation about the project between Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

The U.S. pressure against the Atarot project, which is closer to Ramallah than Jerusalem, was likely meant to maintain the viability of a two-state solution. However, this  possibility is an illusion. The Biden administration knows full well that the two-state solution ended in 2007 when Hamas took over the Gaza Strip. It was not Israel or the settler movement in Judea and Samaria that rendered it moribund.

If anything, the United States had a greater role in the two-state solution’s demise than either Israeli officialdom or the settlers. The George W. Bush administration, smitten by the neo-con dream of democratizing the Middle East, pressured Israel and the Palestinian Authority to hold elections in 2006 to the Palestinian Legislative Council.

In Judea and Samaria and especially in Gaza, Palestinians fed up by fighting between P.A. security forces and members of the Fatah Tanzim militia gave their vote to the Change and Reform Party controlled by Hamas. The party cleverly downplayed the movement’s fundamentalism and ran candidates with professional and public service credentials in contrast to the “muscle men” the two rival Fatah lists fielded.

Once in power, Hamas decided to form a militia, which P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas annulled, initiating a series of rounds of fighting in Gaza between Hamas, P.A. security forces, and Fatah that ended in the total defeat of P.A. forces. The inner Palestinian partition became the most decisive and long-standing factor in Palestinian political life. The many rounds of failed “unity talks” between the P.A. and Hamas only reinforced the divide.

Few realize to what extent the Palestinians are divided into two rival Palestinian “statelets” (a term coined by a former Washington Post correspondent in Israel). Hamas and the P.A. each have their own leadership, legislature, security forces, and laws. Palestinian society is further divided by the tribal politics of the family and clan.

Gaza is dominated on the leadership level exclusively by Hamas leaders Ismail Haniyeh and Yahya Sinwar. On the administrative level, the Interior and National Security Ministry, whose minister is a Hamas stalwart, has great control. The ministry runs the internal security agency, the gendarmerie and the police. On numerous occasions, when the military arm—the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades—announces the “martyrdom” of its fighters, they are simultaneously identified as members of the Interior and National Security Ministry.

Much the same relationship prevails between Fatah and the P.A. security forces. The common denominator between Hamas-dominated Gaza and the P.A. is that they are both one-party militias that perceive the other as an existential threat that must be monitored, punished and subdued.

The regional and international dimensions that reinforce the Palestinian divide are cementing this Palestinian partition that buries prospects for a two-state solution. The P.A. owes its continued existence to Western monetary and political aid and support of the moderate Arab states, namely Saudi Arabia and Egypt, and last and not least to its security coordination with Israel. It is Israel that makes the majority of preventive arrests that keep Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad at bay in areas controlled by the P.A. For Hamas, its regional allies are different: Iran, Turkey and Qatar.

In sum, the two-state solution can hardly be threatened by building in Judea and Samaria or elsewhere—it died in 2007. It should be allowed to rest in peace.

Hillel Frisch is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and an expert on the Arab world at The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.

This article was first published by the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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