Ibrahim Abu Mustafa / REUTERS

Is War in Gaza Unavoidable?

Why the Current Peace Won't Hold

Earlier this summer, it seemed like war in the Gaza Strip was inevitable. Israel had accepted Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’ request to cut off electricity for the approximately two million Gazans who live under Hamas rule. Abbas hoped to pressure Hamas into relinquishing control over the strip, which was plunged into darkness as the cornered faction faced pressure from Israel and Abbas on one side and Egypt on the other. It seemed only a matter of time before Hamas lashed out. That is, until an unlikely savior emerged: exiled Fatah leader Muhammad Dahlan. The archrival of Abbas rushed to Egypt and brokered an agreement between Cairo and Hamas for an emergency fuel shipment. As the situation calmed, Dahlan announced a new arrangement for Gaza: he would raise money for Gaza abroad. In return, Hamas would allow his supporters to return to Gaza and operate freely there.

Yet this latest Middle East agreement is only a temporary fix. Hamas leaders have few goals in common with the exiled leader of their rival party, save two important ones: to ameliorate the hardships of life in Gaza and thwart their mutual rival, Abbas, in the West Bank. The current arrangement ostensibly serves these two purposes, but it does so only in the near term. It may have delayed a war this summer, but it has made a future conflict more likely.

For Hamas, siding with Dahlan was the only realistic option to avoid launching another war. Strapped for cash and facing a restive population (10,000 Gazans marched on Hamas’ electricity headquarters in January in protest), Hamas was starting to feel the effects of the Saudi and United Arab Emirates–led blockade of one of its patrons, Qatar. Dahlan, too, was desperate for a way to remain relevant. Ever since Abbas exiled him in 2011, the former security chief in Gaza has made his home in the UAE, courting regional favor and pumping money into the Palestinian Territories. Yet Dahlan has been increasingly marginalized in Palestinian purge of his allies in last year’s general conference of the Fatah movement. So a crisis involving Dahlan’s native Gaza and potentially Egypt—with which Dahlan maintains strong relations—presented an opportunity for him to reassert some relevancy. Egypt, eager to stabilize Gaza as a matter of national security and having given up on Abbas playing a constructive role there, was more than willing to coordinate with Dahlan.

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