The deal between Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority on the West Bank and Hamas in the old Gaza Strip is considerably less valuable than it looks. Although Mr. Abbas’ West Bank authority will assume civilian responsibilities there, Hamas will remain in control of security, and will neither lay down its weapons nor dismantle its security forces and militias. Hamas has received arms from Iran in the past and now threatens the entire region.
Egypt’s military leadership midwifed the merger of Mr. Abbas’ West Bank forces and the Gaza rulers to limit the threat on its own border. Iran promises to quit supplying arms for anti-Cairo guerillas in the Sinai Peninsula, but whether the new alliance will work to Egypt’s advantage is not at all clear.
At best it’s a fragile pact. The 82-year-old Mr. Abbas has no acknowledged successor. In fact, he sees as his chief rival one Mohammed Dahlan, a fellow Palestinian based in the United Arab Emirates, whom he forbids returning to Palestine.
Mr. Abbas’ new partnership with Hamas — the product of Egyptian mediation efforts between the two parties — means that from this moment on the president of the Palestinian Authority is responsible for everything bad that takes place inside the Gaza Strip. But he does not control the militias that frequently attack villages in southern Israel.
The Washington negotiators continue with their “solution,” a second regional Arab state operating opposite Israel, and the “two-state solution” isn’t likely to work, despite American inducements.
In fact, given the continuing radicalization of the Palestinian Arabs, it’s unlikely that Israel could ever permit an independent Arab state on its ill-defined frontier, which could become a base against the growing power of the radicals throughout the Muslim world.
When and how Washington recognizes this reality is not clear; neither is it clear what the alternative might be. It now appears to be certain that it would have to be a solution in which Israel permits some sort of self-government for what would be a large Arab/Muslim minority. The old threat of the Arabs “outbreeding” the Jews in the area is now in question. As Arab incomes have risen, as in the rest of the world, birthrates have dropped, and the birthrate among Israel’s Jews is the highest in the industrial world.
The growing power and influence of Iran, especially among Tehran’s Muslims, is throwing up a new de facto alliance which includes the former bitter enemies of Israel. There’s a growing tendency to see the problem of peace and stability in new terms. It was generally accepted a few years ago that the Arab-Jewish conflict was the chief threat to stability of the region. But with the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, that theater assumed the spotlight. The war inside Syria has the potential to draw in all its neighbors, however much they ignore it.