The attack perpetrated yesterday morning against the Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah while he was heading to Beit Hanun to inaugurate a sewage treatment plant comes as a reminder that no matter how small the Strip is, the array of actors acting there – and around there – is bigger and more complex than we might want to admit.
In the aftermath of the attack, that luckily (or perhaps purposely) left no one severely injured, everyone began to question who might be behind it.
Hamas, understandably, does not have any interest in such an attack being carried out on its territory. The group, in fact, is still trying to present itself as an entity with effective ruling capacity and is trying to sell the agreement reached last October with the Palestinian Authority not as an unescapable necessity imposed upon it by its governing failures but rather as a responsible decision that the group took on the behalf of the broader Palestinian national interest. In this context, having failed to prevent the attack against Hamdallah is a serious wound to Hamas’ image and – more importantly – one that weakens its negotiating position vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority.
The most radical and less pragmatic faction within Hamas – made of those who have always rejected any opening to Fatah and have always supported the “strong line” – is more interested in an attack that could threaten the reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority and its weakening of Hamas’ decade-long grip on Gaza. However, this faction is not made by leaders devoid of any political understandings or sensitivity (in Hamas the line separating politics and military action is often blurred) but rather of experienced militants who know when to use politics and when to use force. Therefore, they must be aware that a similar attack on Gaza’s soil cannot but affect negatively the credibility of Hamas in the eyes of the Gazans and strengthen the conviction of those who see in a reconciliation with the Palestinian Authority the only way forward.
Proceeding in the account of the interested parties, the turn of the Palestinian Authority comes next. For the Ramallah-based government, an attack against its Prime Minister on his first visit to Gaza (and the latter’s decision to proceed nonetheless his trip to the sewage treatment plan) brings a series of welcome consequences: it weakens Hamas’ credibility as security provider; it improves in the eyes of the people of Gaza the image of a Palestinian Authority who has long been seen in the Strip as a distant and hostile party; it strengthens the stance of Abbas in negotiations. Yet, not even these beneficial consequences are enough to seriously think that the Palestinian Authority could have simulated an attack of this kind. If not for moral reasons, just because the consequences are never too easy to predict and an artificial ignition of the situation in Gaza could always get out of control and trigger a chaos capable of ending Hamas’ opening.
Finally, there are the Strip’s Salafi groups – those that have never embraced politics and have made of indiscriminate violence their preferred modus operandi. The aim is to liberate the Palestinian territories from the Israeli occupier and Palestinian “apostate” organizations and ultimately establish a sharia-run Islamic State. In pursuing their goal, these actors have traditionally rejected any compromise and have always tried to boycott the others’ periodical non-violent modes. For instance, at the time of the truces reached by Israel and Hamas that saw the latter restrain form launching rockets against Israeli cities, the Strip’s Salafi organizations refrained from joining the truce and rather increased their attacks against both Israel and Hamas. Thus, they have always been engaged in fight on a double front. In this perspective, yesterday’s attack against Hamdallah could be seen as the latest opening on part of Salafists of their fight against Hamas and its pragmatism.
As of now, these remain nothing but speculations. However, what can be said with certainty is that reducing the reality of the Strip to the simple dichotomy Hamas-Fatah fails to account for the Salafi organizations that operate there. And that always find violent ways to remind us of their existence.
Dealing with them, should be made a priority by both Fatah and Hamas in their reconciliation progress.