How critical is Hamas to the success of an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty?

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Question submitted by Yijia Liang, from Upper Arlington High School, March 21, 2014

Answered by: Robert M. Danin, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies

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Hamas, which refuses to recognize Israel in any form, opposes the negotiations taking place between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and believes that Israel should not exist. Its control of Gaza, constituting roughly 40 percent of the population (overall 4.4 million) slated to be part of a Palestinian state, would pose a major impediment to the success of any Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty. The current reality—a divided Palestinian polity with Gaza under Hamas' rule and the West Bank under PLO rule—is a formidable challenge to the viability of any peace agreement signed between Israelis and Palestinians. For instance, in the event the PLO and Israel reached an agreement, with Gaza under Hamas, how would the PLO take control and create a unified Palestinian state consisting of both Gaza and the West Bank?

One way posited is that of a referendum; a draft Israel-PLO peace treaty would be put to a vote by the people of Gaza (along with the West Bank) who would then vote to ratify the peace treaty. Faced with the prospect of imminent statehood, goes the argument, Gazans would readily vote yes.

But this argument is problematic. First, there is no way to guarantee Hamas would allow a referendum in Gaza. Second, even if it did allow it, there is nothing to guarantee Gazans would vote yes. Hamas would likely mobilize all its political resources to lobby Gazans against accepting the treaty. And even without such lobbying, there is at least a distinct possibility, if not likelihood, that Gazans would reject the deal as inadequate. And finally, even if the people of Gaza were to accept the peace agreement in a referendum, it is not clear what would force Hamas to implement the agreement and relinquish power in Gaza.

Given these realities, it is hard to see how a peace treaty can succeed given Hamas' control of Gaza and its implacable opposition to compromise with Israel. Hamas is likely to help any peace treaty fail.

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