Will the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation work?

What do you do when you’ve run out of steam on a couple of R&Rs that you should have gotten more done on? That’s right: revive a blog that’s been dormant since February.

Last Wednesday, we saw the announcement that Fatah and Hamas signed a reconciliation deal, one that will produce an interim caretaker government ahead of new presidential elections. Clearly, Israel’s not happy about this, and on some level we might also wonder why Fatah is, as well, since they’ve not exactly been friends with Hamas since the 2007 split that left the former in charge of the West Bank and the latter in charge of Gaza. So it got me thinking: when would the Palestinian factions go through with this election, and—even if they would—when might Israel nonetheless prevent it from happening?

A quick and dirty toy model follows after the break…

Now, I’m not going to claim that this model provides any deep insight to the situation, but since I used it to fix some ideas of my own, I figured it’s worth presenting here, at least for grad students curious as to how something like this might work. Clearly, we’ve got three critical players here: Fatah, Hamas, and Israel. The Palestinian factions have to decide whether to stand in the elections, which is fairly cheap but gives each side a chance to control the presidency, or renege on the deal. If one reneges while the other remains peaceful, we might take that to involve eliminating the other (politically) at some cost, but if both renege, we’d probably see a continuation of the status quo. So, in that sense, we’ve got a fairly standard simultaneous-choice game in which both parties may have opportunistic incentives to exploit the other. Israel, on the other hand, might watch these proceedings warily, because it would clearly prefer that Fatah win an election, but it always has the chance to intervene militarily, which is expensive but can at a minimum enforce a return to the status quo.

With players and their preferences defined, I worked out this game tree, which translates the junk above into something a little more concrete: Hamas and Fatah face a dilemma in choosing to stand in the election or not, while Israel can look forward, judge the likely outcome of an election, and choose whether to allow it or to prevent it with some costly military action that can preserve the status quo of a divided Palestine. Nothing fancy here, but it can give us some insight into how the relative electoral strength of the Palestinian factions—as well as the extent to which Israel prefers Fatah to Hamas—might play into the region’s politics over the coming months.

Now let’s turn to answering our two questions. First, when will Fatah and Hamas actually let an election go forward? Second, even if the election will occur, when might Israel intervene to prevent it?

On the issue of when the elections will go forward, the model tell us that they’re likely to happen only when neither side—Fatah or Hamas—is too likely to win outright. Precisely, this is when Hamas’ chances of victory, pH, fall within this range: 1-cH<=pH<=cF. In this case, neither Fatah nor Hamas finds it profitable to attempt to renege on the deal (because, if either did, the other would also renege, leading to a continuation of the status quo), and each thinks that it’s got a good enough chance of winning that standing in the election seems worthwhile. Note, though, that if either side were too likely to win, the other would surely renege as well, so we should see an election only when the chances of winning are somewhere around 50% for either side. One thing this tell us is that there’s likely to be some serious suspense over the outcome of any presidential election.

Next, if Hamas and Fatah will both go through with the election, what’s Israel likely to do? Remember that it can use some kind of costly mechanism to prevent the election (say, a military operation) and preserve the status quo, which denies Hamas a seat at the recognized bargaining table. The model shows that Israel will prevent the election when it values the status quo enough, however costly it may be, and its incentives to prevent the election also increase in Hamas’ chances of victory—specifically, it would tolerate an ever more painful status quo (divided governance in the Palestinian territories) rather than allow elections to go forward as Hamas becomes more likely to win out over Fatah. Of course, as Fatah looks ever more likely to win, Israel should be less and less willing to prevent the elections, because they would be a fairly cheap way to ensure that its preferred Palestinian faction remained in charge.

I’ll post the proofs of the solution later, but that, in a nutshell, is what we can get out of a simple toy model of this process. Elections will only occur if both Hamas and Fatah are optimistic enough about winning, but if Hamas looks likely enough to win, Israel is likely to make moves towards prevention. So, should elections occur, the outcome will be fairly uncertain, but probably biased in favor of Fatah, given that Israel would move to prevent elections that would be more favorable to Hamas. Granted, this model says nothing about whether either Hamas or Fatah can or will abide by unfavorable election results—indeed, it assumes that the outcome of the election is binding—but we can still learn quite a bit from it, i.e. the likely winner of elections that do occur and the conditions under which elections that could happen will be prevented by an outsider.

(As a quick aside, you may wonder about the assumption of binding election results, but it’s really not all that damaging, because it would just add another condition required to support the occurrence of the election—but, once that’s satisfied, these results above will still play out, and we can simply think of this additional constraint as one more factor making elections difficult to hold in the first place.)

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