As Hamas’s decade-long rule of the Gaza Strip nears its presumed end, the Palestinian terror group has defied calls to disarm and has vowed to move its battle against Israel to Judea and Samaria. But experts say that Gaza’s impending power transfer as well as Hamas’s threat are both unlikely to materialize.
Fatah, the political party headed by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas, announced in October that it would reconcile with Hamas and form a unity government with its Palestinian rival. Israel and the U.S. reacted by calling on Hamas to disarm and recognize Israel.
As recently as this week, Hamas has continued its refusal to disarm.
“These weapons will not be touched,” Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, told reporters in Gaza. “It’s not for debate or talks. These weapons will clearly move to the West Bank to battle the [Israeli] occupation there. It’s our right to fight the occupation until it ends.”
In response to the Hamas threat, the IDF told JNS.org in a statement that it “continues to monitor the ongoing events in the region, and is prepared to face any threat.”
Despite Hamas’s rhetoric, experts maintain that the terror group is incapable of actually relocating its weapons to the disputed territories, and have questioned the logistical feasibility of such a move, while expressing confidence in Israel’s ability to mitigate the threat.
“We should certainly take Hamas’s threats about escalating violence in the West Bank seriously, but we should also understand that the PA and Israel have maintained a security relationship that is designed to mitigate these threats,” Grant Rumley, an expert on Palestinian politics and a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank, told JNS.org.
“Taken in light of the recent reconciliation negotiations, Hamas’s threats are aimed at the PA’s ongoing security coordination with Israel, which is a deeply unpopular issue among many Palestinians,” he said.
Brig. Gen. (ret.) Shlomo Brom, a senior research associate at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, agreed with Rumley, telling JNS.org that Hamas’s threat is “empty” and asserting that the terror group is “not capable” of transferring weapons to Judea and Samaria.
“[Hamas] cannot do this directly through Israel,” which separates Gaza from Judea and Samaria, Brom explained.
Attempting to smuggle weapons from Gaza to Egypt and then through Jordan into the disputed territories is also an unrealistic option for Hamas, said Brom, a former director of the Strategic Planning Division in the IDF General Staff.
“The border between Jordan and [Judea and Samaria] is very effectively controlled by Israel and Jordan with close cooperation between the two,” Brom added, noting that numerous past attempts by Hamas to initiate terror attacks in Judea and Samaria ended in failure due to close security cooperation between Israel and the PA.
Power transfer on shaky ground
Brom also expressed skepticism regarding the significance of the Egyptian-brokered transition in Gaza from Hamas rule to PA control, emphasizing that there is “zero” probability of “security authority and control of the military arm of Hamas” being transferred to the PA. That reality, he said, makes “a significant change” in Israeli-Palestinian relations implausible.
Rumley concurred, saying he remains “very skeptical” of a genuine transfer of power in Gaza.
“Already we see Hamas unions blocking PA employees from resuming their duties in government ministries,” said Rumley, adding that “huge hurdles” to genuine Palestinian unity stem from long-standing “animosity” between Hamas and Fatah as well as “donor fatigue plaguing the PA.”
Indeed, in a possible sign that the unity deal is on shaky ground, the power transfer—which was scheduled to be implemented Dec. 1—was delayed by 10 days on Nov. 29 after Hamas prevented PA employees from returning to their positions at several government ministries.
In a statement issued later that day, Fatah and Hamas requested that Egypt delay the power transfer to allow the Palestinian rivals to “complete the arrangements to successfully conclude reconciliation steps,” prompting Egypt to send high-ranking intelligence officials to Gaza to mediate the impasse.
The emergence of such a dispute on the eve of the power transfer is reminiscent of the Palestinian unity government formed between Fatah and Hamas in 2014. That joint government collapsed a year later after making little progress on reconciling the deep split between the Palestinian factions.