The recent coup in Egypt has highlighted the fact that Palestinians are not ready for peace with each other, much less Israel. Last week, the Fatah movement that controls the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority executive called for Palestinians to follow Egypt’s example and overthrow Hamas in Gaza. Hamas won the Palestinian Authority’s first and last parliamentary elections in 2006 before staging a coup in Gaza in 2007.
On Wednesday, a Palestinian official from Fatah declared confidently to Israel Radio that Hamas had been severely weakened by the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, which had given it both ideological support and military protection, the Jerusalem Post reported. “Hamas is facing its most difficult period since it has lost many important allies in the region, and especially Mohamed Morsi,” he said.
Hamas is the Palestinian wing of the broader Muslim Brotherhood movement, which originated in Egypt but has branches in many countries in the region and beyond. It emerged in the late 1980s and early 1990s as an Islamist alternative to the secular nationalists who then controlled the Palestine Liberation Organization under then-chairman Yasser Arafat, and launched a deadly campaign of suicide bombings against Israelis.
In addition to the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas–despite being a Sunni organization–has formed a military alliance with Shi’ite Iran, which has provided weapons and training to terrorists in Gaza. The Egyptian coup may bring tighter control over smuggling tunnels along the Egypt-Gaza border, since the Egyptian military may enjoy a freer hand against Hamas, though even under Hosni Mubarak it did not stop all such smuggling.
The Obama administration has made peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians a top regional priority, despite the numerous crises unfolding elsewhere, sending U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to shuttle back and forth between the parties. Israel has pointed out that there is little benefit in making peace when Palestinians are at war among themselves, and when Hamas aims to control the West Bank as well.
Iran, Hamas’s most important backer, criticized the military coup but also welcomed it as a blow to U.S. policy in the region. Overall, the Jerusalem Post notes, it is hardly on friendly terms with the transitional Egyptian government. An official statement from Iran that the coup was “cause for concern” has drawn the counter-charge from Egypt that Iran is guilty of “unacceptable interference” in that country’s affairs.