Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is living in an illusion if he thinks that his rivals in Hamas would ever agree to lay down their weapons or cede control over the Gaza Strip.
Hamas has no intention of dismantling its military and security apparatus. It also does not have any intention of allowing Abbas's security forces to be stationed in the Gaza Strip. This refusal is why the "reconciliation" deal that Abbas signed with Hamas in Cairo in October 2017 will never be translated into facts on the ground.
Hamas is prepared to give Abbas anything he wants in the Gaza Strip except for security control. Hamas has no problem allowing Abbas and his government to function as a "civil administration" in the Gaza Strip by providing funds and various services to government institutions there.
If Abbas wants to pay salaries to civil servants in the Gaza Strip, that is fine with Hamas. If he wants to pay for fuel, water and electricity supplies to the Gaza Strip, that is also fine with Hamas.
Security control, however, is the last thing Hamas wants from Abbas. For Hamas, security is a red line not to be crossed.
What is behind Hamas's fierce opposition to relinquishing security control over the Gaza Strip?
Hamas wants to retain its weapons and security control of the Gaza Strip for two reasons: first, it wants the weapons so that it can continue the "armed struggle" against Israel; second, Hamas knows that the moment it hands over security control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority (PA), many of its leaders and members will either be killed or imprisoned by Abbas's security forces.
Ahmed Bahr, a senior Hamas official in the Gaza Strip, described Abbas's demand that Hamas dismantle its security and military apparatus as "idiotic."
In a sermon he delivered during Friday prayers at Al-Mahata Mosque in the central Gaza Strip on March 23, Bahr said that the issue of disarming Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups was "non-negotiable." Hamas, he added, will not hand over its weapons to a Palestinian Authority government that conducts security coordination with Israel in the West Bank. "The weapons of the Palestinian resistance are legitimate weapons that will be used to restore our rights and liberate our lands," the Hamas official said. "The armed struggle [against Israel] is a right guaranteed by international law
Bahr's statements show that Hamas still does not trust Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, mainly because of their close security ties with Israel. For Hamas, security coordination with Israel is a form of treason, and there is no way Hamas would agree to cooperate with any Palestinian party that works with the Israelis.
Hamas continues to accuse the PA security forces and Israel of jointly cracking down on its members in the West Bank.
In a recent statement, Hamas accused the Palestinian Authority of arresting 10 of its members there. The arrests were carried out in the West Bank cities of Tulkarem, Nablus, Kalkilya, Hebron and Ramallah, according to Hamas. Among those taken into custody was a Palestinian journalist, Osama Shahin. Hamas said that two of the detainees have gone on hunger strike to protest their "illegal" incarceration.
Hamas fears that many of its leaders and members will face the same fate if it allows Abbas's security forces to deploy in the Gaza Strip. Those who are fortunate will only end up behind bars. Those who are less fortunate will be executed in public squares by Abbas loyalists.
Hamas still has agonizing memories of the days between 1993 and 2007, when the Palestinian Authority was in control of the Gaza Strip. Then, many Hamas leaders and senior officials found themselves either in prison or under house arrest.
Back then, one of the PA's favorite methods of "torture" -- and humiliating Hamas leaders -- was shaving the beards of Hamas leaders. Several Hamas leaders, including Mahmoud Zahar, had their beards shaven by their Palestinian interrogators while in prison.
This was the Palestinian Authority's technique of punishing the Hamas leaders. Muslims believe that, according to Islamic teachings, it is mandatory for men to grow a beard. Prophet Mohammed was even quoted as saying, "Be distinguished from disbelievers, grow your beards and shave your moustache."
The Hamas leaders' fear of what awaits them should they cede control over the Gaza Strip is not unjustified.
In a March 19 speech before Palestine Liberation Organization leaders in Ramallah, Abbas threatened to "pour shoes on the heads" of the Hamas leaders. The shoes, he said, will hit the heads of the most senior and most junior man in Hamas.
Abbas's threat came in response to the apparent assassination attempt targeting his Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah, and General Intelligence Chief Majed Faraj, during a visit to the Gaza Strip earlier this month. The two senior Palestinian officials escaped unharmed when a roadside bomb exploded near their convoy in the northern Gaza Strip -- an area controlled by Hamas. Abbas has held Hamas "fully responsible" for the attack, while Hamas has denied any responsibility.
The attack on the convoy has led to a serious crisis between Abbas and Hamas, and destroyed the Egyptian-brokered "reconciliation" agreement between the two sides. Under the current circumstances, any talk about Hamas giving up its security control of the Gaza Strip sounds more like a joke, especially in light of Abbas's accusation that the terror group had tried to kill his prime minister and intelligence chief.
Pictured: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas talks with then Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on April 5, 2007 in Gaza City. Since 2007, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority have announced at least four "reconciliation" agreements to end their rivalry. (Photo by Mohamed Alostaz/PPM via Getty Images)
Hamas has spent the last decade arming itself to the teeth. With the help of Iran and other Islamic and Arab terror groups, Hamas managed to smuggle large amounts of weapons into the Gaza Strip through dozens of tunnels along its shared border with Egypt. According to some reports, many of the weapons, including missiles and rockets, were smuggled during the period when Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was in power between June 2012 and July 2013. Some of the rockets and missiles were later used by Hamas and other Palestinian groups to attack Israel.
In addition, Hamas has thousands of security officers and militiamen who will never agree to serve under Abbas's security forces. This does not mean, however, that they will not accept salaries from Abbas's government.
Abbas, for his part, will never agree to incorporate the Hamas men into his security forces. He cannot, on the one hand, accuse Hamas of being behind the botched assassination attempt on Hamdallah and Faraj, and at the same time include Hamas militiamen and policemen within his security forces.
Ironically, while Abbas is demanding that Hamas disarm and hand over to his government security control of the Gaza Strip, Hamas is talking about its desire to "transfer" its weapons to the West Bank. Abbas wants to extend his authority to the Gaza Strip, while Hamas is seeking to take over the West Bank.
Hamas wants to "transfer" its weapons to the West Bank for two reasons: to overthrow Abbas's regime and to pursue the "armed struggle" against Israel.
Fighting Israel is Hamas's declared goal. Toppling Abbas's regime is its undeclared goal.
The weapons of Hamas are a red line not "to be crossed," said Khalil Al Haya, a senior Hamas official.
"Everyone should stop talking about these weapons, because they will remain to fight Israel. The weapons in the Gaza Strip give power to all Palestinians, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. These weapons will be transferred to the West Bank. The transfer of the weapons [to the West Bank] will not be enough. They will be used to fight Israel."
Abbas is fortunate to have Israel sitting with him in the West Bank. Otherwise, Hamas would have succeeded in its effort to topple his regime and "transfer" its weapons to the West Bank.
Fortunately for the Palestinians, Israel is sitting in the middle between the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Otherwise, Hamas and Abbas loyalists would be dispatching rockets and suicide bombers against each other. Instead of marching towards "reconciliation" and "unity," Abbas and Hamas have brought their people a new model of the "two-state solution": a Hamas-run emirate in the Gaza Strip and a mini-PLO state in the West Bank. Meanwhile, Abbas will continue to dream of returning to the Gaza Strip, while Hamas will continue to prepare for war against Israel and removing the Palestinian Authority from power.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.