This week Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas is accepting the resignations of parliament, again distancing the ruling coalition from the radical party, Hamas, and talking about plans for elections. Meanwhile, rumors arose that protests might be staged to oust Hamas from the Gaza Strip. How much will change in light of Egypt? And will a new Egyptian government tip the balance in Palestine’s Fatah-Hamas rivalry which has the territories sharply divided?
Palestinian leaders of the ruling coalition led by the Fatah party which dominates the West Bank continue to call for a two-state solution with Israel and claim that the changes in Egypt have not been a deciding factor for their recent actions, nor do they believe will much change in relations with Egypt. President Abbas recently responded to the potential for more calls for reform in light of Egypt by asking Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to disband and then reform the parliament, offering yet more promises of an election to come in the near future.
Meanwhile, it is beginning to appear that the actions of Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip bordering Egypt, are practically leading to a three-state situation with Israel and the West Bank. Again, they refuse to participate in the recommended elections largely because they believe they will win and Fatah will misrepresent the results.
Many in the Gaza Strip, both the radicals of Hamas and the general population living there, hope that if Egypt’s government changes that perhaps the Rafah border crossing will open for more flow of goods and migrants. However, Israel controls that crossing as much as Egypt. A new Egyptian government may not be able to change this situation even if it chose to.
Palestine’s formal leadership denies there will be any change in Egypt-Palestinian relations. “Why would I presume that Egypt in the aftermath of this movement is going to be any less supportive?” Fayyad told the Washington Post. “Egyptian people are very supportive of the Palestinian people.”
But this begs a vital question: Will the make up of the new Egyptian government lead Egypt to change how it has been involved in the currently-broken internal Palestinian reconciliation efforts?
For some time, Egypt has attempted to play peacemaker between Fatah and Hamas, but some actors believe that Mubarak’s approach favored moderate Fatah over radical Hamas and may have been influenced behind the scenes by the U.S.
If the “new” Egypt shapes up to be a mixed salad of parties, liberal to radical, pro-Western to Sharia-pushing, perhaps only a moderate, middle of the road candidate will be able to lead, and Egypt will continue along much the same road as it has with Palestine.
However, even if a more radical Islamist bloc comes to control parliament, some experts believe the only thing that will change is that Egypt would play a slightly more even hand between Fatah and Hamas, rather than leaning toward Fatah.
There are fears in the West that a more radical Egypt would create an anti-Western alliance with Hamas and other players in the region. But as of today’s conversations among Egyptians, few think Egypt is going to allow their happy days of reform lead to anything that would de-stabilize its friend, Palestine.