Hamas in Gaza: The art of political survival

Many experts indicate that Hamas has weakened and some of them predict the movement might negotiate with Israel

Dr. Naser al-Tamimi
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After more than seven years of complete control of the Gaza Strip, Hamas appears to be on its way to allowing the Palestinian national unity government, which was formed about four months ago to run the Strip especially the border crossings, to function. This shift in the position of Hamas raises an important question: What are the real reasons that prompted Hamas to adopt new policies?

At the beginning we can say that the national unity government can be considered for both sides, the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas as a “mandatory corridor.” From the standpoint of the PA, the negotiations reached an impasse, it’s legitimacy has begun to erode as the time passes by, and maybe it’s time to put the “house in order” to prepare for the next steps. Meanwhile, Hamas might consider the situation as a “warrior repose” and waiting for a new round of conflict.

Hamas has realized that the Palestinian people are desperate for a period of tranquility

Dr. Naser al-Tamimi

Hamas realized (and rightly so) that it cannot alone rebuild the impoverished Gaza Strip, which was subjected to vast destruction, besides economic blockade. The U.N. secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon in his recent visit to Gaza captured the gravity of the situation, when he described the destruction in Gaza as “beyond description” and a source of “shame to the international community.”

Within this context, many experts indicate that Hamas has weakened and some of them predict the movement might negotiate with Israel. There is no doubt that Hamas has suffered a severe blow during the recent war with Israel, however you can argue that the recent developments will not compel Hamas to negotiate with Israel and the Islamic movement will be able to cope with new developments. In fact, the situation may turn into a win- win for Hamas.

Political skills

Hamas has realized that the Palestinian people are desperate for a period of tranquility and to start working on reconstruction projects. Hamas has stated clearly it will not be an obstacle to the reconstruction and agreed that the Palestinian unity government will oversee the reconstruction of Gaza Strip. It is true that some people may look at that as political concessions, but at the same time it shows the flexibility and political skill of the leaders of Hamas. Indeed, if the government of national unity has succeeded, Hamas certainly will incur part of the praise because it was involved in the formation of that government. While if the government fails, Hamas will certainly shift the blame on the shoulders of the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the international community. This situation accurately described by Nathan Brown, a professor at George Washington University, who said: “The balance between the pro- and anti-Hamas assistance might shift, but Hamas cannot be entirely avoided, nor can it be in complete control.”

Hamas cannot ignore what is happening in the region, especially the American war on ISIS. Hamas is fully aware that Israel might exploit the situation in the region to its advantage, thus it is necessary to wait until the picture becomes clear in the Middle East. Or, as the Arab proverb says “bend until the storm passes.” More importantly, Hamas knows that calm and economic recovery in Gaza is in the interest of both Egypt and Israel. The Egyptian government is fighting a war in the Sinai against Ansar al-Bayt al-Maqdis, who pledged allegiance to ISIS, consequently it’s not in Cairo’s interest to see the situation in Gaza deteriorating to dangerous levels. Perhaps Benny Gantz, the chief of staff of Israeli Defense Forces, was more candid and put it bluntly: “At the end of the day, 1.8 million Palestinians live there, and the quiet is also dependent on the trend of creating economic hope there.”

No disarmament

Perhaps most importantly, Hamas did not pledge any commitments to disarmament, or resolve any of its military apparatus. Indeed, Israel has failed to link international aid for the reconstruction of Gaza to its central demand that the Islamic movement must disarm. This situation could provide Hamas with the opportunities to re-arm and make up for what they lost during the summer’s war with Israel. This dilemma is summed up by Khaled Abu Toameh, a distinguished senior fellow at the Gatestone Institute : “From now, the PA will be working toward rebuilding the Gaza Strip while Hamas will use its own resources to smuggle in additional weapons and prepare for the next war with Israel.”

Hamas itself needs a period of quiet to reassess its military strategy and compensate for what it lost of human cadres and military equipment in the war with Israel. In that regard, the existence of a national unity government will certainly increases its focus on the development of its own capabilities and removes the heavy burden of managing nearly two million people. Without a doubt the Islamic movement has gained great popularity in the recent war with Israel, in addition to that the Hamas still holds invaluable “cards” which may play an important role to strengthen its political prestige. One of them is a prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel, where it is believed that the movement retains the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed during the summer war in Gaza.

The situation for the Palestinian Authority may be more complicated as they are required to fulfill the Palestinians political aspirations, to oversee the reconstruction of Gaza, at the same time provide for the economic needs of the millions of Palestinians. In the event of failure, it is very likely that the Palestinians will blame the PA and its’ President Mahmoud Abbas, not Hamas.

Dr Naser al-Tamimi is a UK-based Middle East analyst, and author of the book “China-Saudi Arabia Relations, 1990-2012: Marriage of Convenience or Strategic Alliance?” He is an Al Arabiya regular contributor, with a particular interest in energy politics, the political economy of the Gulf, and Middle East-Asia relations. The writer can be reached at: Twitter: @nasertamimi and email: [email protected]

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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