CONTENT PREVIEW
Country Risk

Deepening Palestinian split increases likelihood of West Bank violence; Hamas-Israel escalation likely if Qatari funding is blocked

11 January 2019
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Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas guard the Rafah border crossing with Egypt on 8 January 2019, following the withdrawal of PA security personnel. Source: Said Khatib/AFP/Getty Images

Key Points

  • Hamas cells in the West Bank are likely to carry out shooting and small improvised explosive device (IED) attacks against PA security forces, particularly if there is an increase in frequency of arrests of Hamas members by Israeli security forces, facilitated by the PA.
  • The PA's decision to undermine the influence of Hamas in the West Bank, while the Qataris and Egyptians continue to provide Hamas with financial support and a back-door communication channel to the Israeli and US governments, raises the likelihood of an open-ended de facto separation between the administrations of Gaza and the West Bank.
  • Any increase in violence between Hamas and the PA is unlikely to result in Hamas resuming sustained rocket attacks on Israel, at least during the run-up to Israel's April elections, and dependent on Hamas continuing to receive Qatari funding to pay its civil service, which appears in doubt.

Event

On 7 January 2019, the Palestinian Authority (PA) withdrew its security personnel from the Rafah border crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

PA security personnel had been stationed at the Rafah crossing as part of a reconciliation agreement agreed with Hamas in 2017; neither side, however, made any substantive movement towards integration in 2018. The crossing will now be manned by Hamas security, and is likely to remain closed to all but essential traffic by the Egyptians, who are unwilling to co-operate directly with Hamas, due to its ties to the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

The PA's decision came after Hamas security forces in Gaza had detained upwards of 400 Fatah members - the largest party in the PA, and led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas - attempting to hold a rally to celebrate the 54th anniversary of Fatah's founding. Previously, Abbas had dissolved the West Bank-based Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) on 23 December, removing parliamentary immunity for Hamas members.

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