‘The Palestinian public is rallying around the Islamist movement’
The latest round of violence between Israel and Gaza has once more placed the spotlight on the relationship between the Palestinians’ two largest factions, Fatah, the ruling party in the West Bank, and Hamas, the group that governs the Gaza Strip.
The 11-day escalation has emboldened Hamas. Once the Egypt-brokered cease-fire took effect on May 21, the Islamist group’s leaders came out from hiding with their fists high in the air, claiming victory for Palestinians, saying their group stood up to Israeli military might.
“This is the euphoria of victory,” senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya told jubilant Palestinians in the densely populated coastal enclave.
The Palestinian factions in Gaza, mainly Hamas and Islamic Jihad, fired more than 4,000 rockets and mortar shells beginning on May 10, according to the Israeli military, following days of confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli security forces at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound/Temple Mount in east Jerusalem.
Palestinian political analyst Fadel Tahboub told The Media Line that Hamas is seen as the winning side because it “struck Israel and forced millions of Israelis into bomb shelters.
“What Hamas and the resistance have done in Gaza is to protect the Palestinian people, especially with regard to the issue of Jerusalem, around which the Palestinians are rallying,” Tahboub said.
“People feel Hamas did not do anything out of self-interest, it didn’t ask to increase the [permitted] fishing zone [off the Gaza coast], or to open the crossings [to the Strip]. What it did was to defend Jerusalem and its holy sites and support the Palestinian people in the [city’s] Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood,” he said.
While Israel acts freely in the region, Hamas was able to challenge Israel, Tahboub continued.
“Israel targets several Arab countries, such as Syria and Lebanon, and no one is responding to that. Therefore, the response of the resistance has met with great resonance among the people,” he said.
Despite public praise and support for Gaza from the Palestinian Authority and Fatah in the West Bank, Hamas’ “triumph” did not sit well with its rival, and Tahboub said it “weakens” it.
“The public is now rallying around Hamas. People are rallying around those who protect them, around the strong, around defenders, around dignity and pride, around those who give them real hope to escape the darkness of humiliation and weakness.”
The recent events, Tahboub said, strengthened Hamas’ status not only among its followers but also among supporters of Fatah.
“The crowd in the center of Ramallah chanted for Hamas and Abu Ubaida [the spokesman for Hamas’ Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades military wing] but did not cheer for Fatah and [its chairman, Mahmoud] Abbas,” he said.
Ibrahim Abrash, a Gaza-based academic and political analyst, told The Media Line that Hamas was able to refloat itself as a legitimate defender of the Palestinian people.
“It directed matters in this confrontation in its favor, as it renewed the legitimacy of its existence, that it is a movement of resistance and was able to impose its presence. Arab countries began to deal with it as the address in the Gaza Strip,” he said.
“No one can say that [Hamas] is a terrorist movement, because it exercised legitimate resistance against the occupation, especially when it linked its actions to what is happening in Jerusalem,” Abrash said.
Countries such as Jordan and Qatar also helped to broker the truce.
The two largest Palestinian factions have been at odds since Hamas won the PA legislative election in 2006. A year later it forcibly pushed Abbas’ party out of Gaza, ushering in the Palestinian division.
Earlier this month, PA President Abbas postponed the legislative election he had scheduled for May 22. Abrash said Abbas cannot risk Fatah being marginalized.
“The PLO is still the only legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and Abu Mazen [Abbas] is its head, and any dealings with the Palestinian cause must be through him and the organization that he leads,” the political analyst said.
But he added that Abbas must bring Hamas and other Palestinian factions into the Palestine Liberation Organization.
“After what happened, the presence of Hamas and Islamic Jihad at the center of Palestinian decision-making cannot be ignored. What is required now is to rearrange the internal Palestinian situation and the PLO, rebuild and revitalize it, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad,” Abrash said.
“If this does not happen, the Palestinians will have two addresses: one in Gaza, and the other in the West Bank, and that is dangerous,” he said.