Hamas is firmly in power, but it has yet to deliver

Israel has evolved a respect for Hamas forces and a practical preference for Hamas’ continued rule in Gaza.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniya arrives at a mosque after giving a speech during the Friday prayer [AFP]
Hamas chief Ismail Haniya arrives at a mosque after giving a speech during the Friday prayer [AFP]

Nine years ago this month, the security forces of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman, Mahmoud Abbas, in the Gaza Strip suffered an embarrassing, debilitating defeat. In a matter of days, combined Hamas forces, including the military arm, the Qassam Brigades, and the more numerous Carabinieri forces of the Tanfizzia routed the alphabet soup of Palestinian security and intelligence forces led by Mohammad Dahlan.

No one was more surprised than Hamas officials at the complete dissolution of the Fatah-led military command in Gaza after months of escalating skirmishes. During the June 2007 battles, the surprising collapse of the Palestinian Authority (PA) forces encouraged local Hamas commanders to shut off their mobile phones, cutting communication with Hamas’ less aggressive political leadership.

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Freed from the cautionary counsel of the exiled politburo led by Khaled Meshal, Hamas commanders rolled all over Gaza, achieving a complete military victory, the consequences of which are still being felt by Gaza’s long-suffering population of 1.8 million.

A new chapter

Hamas’ assumption of power in Gaza opened a new chapter in the political history of the modern Middle East.

Years before the Arab Spring exploded throughout the region, an avowedly Islamic party joined to the Muslim Brotherhood now ruled in Gaza.

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Since then, and notwithstanding serial conflicts with Israel, Hamas’ hold on Gaza has been consolidated. Fatah and its cadre have removed Gaza’s administration. Abbas, who rarely travels anywhere in Palestine outside Ramallah, refuses to visit.

Despite the obstacles placed in its path, Hamas has achieved an historic victory.

No one questions that the Israeli army could occupy Gaza. The key point, however, is that Israel, after weighing the pros and cons of such a move, has chosen to leave Gaza to Hamas. Almost a decade after it came to power, Hamas rules all but unchallenged. 

Despite the obstacles placed in its path, Hamas has achieved an historic victory. But in a hundred years, no one will remember either Hamas nor Fatah.

Historians will instead record that, for the first time in modern Palestine, a real Palestinian army was created in Gaza that fights Israel, controls territory, and, at a great and continuing cost, deters its enemies.

Respect for Hamas

Israel vows that the next war will be Hamas’ last, but in the meantime, it has evolved a respect for Hamas forces and a practical preference for Hamas’ continued rule in Gaza over the claims of all others, including its nominal peace partners in the PLO and Fatah.

Palestinian policemen loyal to Hamas keep guard in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip [Reuters]

Israel has left Gaza, but it has not left Gaza alone. Hamas rules with Israel’s forbearance, but Israel has no interest in enabling Hamas or Gaza to enjoy the fruits of its victory.

Determined to assure that Gazans be permanently kept on the cusp of economic and environmental implosion, Israel, with the pained acquiescence of much of the international community, has confronted Hamas with an unending series of economic and humanitarian crises that constantly test the movement’s political staying power and popularity.

Such difficulties – from the draconian siege that has engineered the destruction of Gaza’s productive economy and made 70 percent of the population dependent upon international assistance, to a border regime maintained by Israel and Egypt that has transformed Gaza into an open air prison – aim at destroying Hamas’ popular support, an objective that incredibly has yet to be achieved. 

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Hamas’ staying power speaks not only to Hamas’ continuing ability, however compromised, to present itself as the standard-bearer of Palestinian national dignity but also to the endemic shortcomings of its Palestinian opponents.

Yet, nine years after its surprise victory, Hamas too is suffering the ill effects of its continuing failure to do more than survive efforts of its antagonists to constrain its power.

Presiding over the slow motion destruction of Gaza’s social and economic foundations is not a legacy to which Hamas can point with any pride.

Gaza’s continued suffering

Simply surviving the efforts of enemies to weaken you may be an achievement, but it only thinly masks what has become in practice a race to the bottom – for Gazans, who are stuck in the stifling confines of a besieged and intolerant Alcatraz and for Palestinians as a whole who will next year “celebrate” half a century of occupation.

Whatever Hamas' achievements, Gaza's continued suffering is the most enduring testament to the continuing inability of Palestine's political class ...

Whatever Hamas’ achievements, Gaza’s continued suffering is the most enduring testament to the continuing inability of Palestine’s political class, led by Fatah and Hamas – to chart a path to sovereignty, independence and an end to the occupation.

This is the only standard that matters for Palestinian parties like Hamas and Fatah that were born in order to gain independence. The failure to achieve this goal dwarfs whatever achievements they can claim, in Gaza or elsewhere.

Reconciliation and unity in the wake of the collapse of the PA in Gaza remain the basis for a vital but ever-elusive common Palestinian political programme.

But interminable efforts to achieve a reconciliation among Palestinian political forces have only recently recorded yet another failure.

Meetings in Doha earlier this month meant to patch things up instead broke up precipitously, accompanied by the usual recriminations.

A rapprochement between Cairo and Gaza, no less than reconciliation, and an Israeli decision to loosen its iron grip on Gaza trade, a potential result of an imminent Israeli-Turkey settlement, is at the top of Hamas’ to-do list.

But yet another meeting earlier this month in Cairo under the auspices of the Egyptian security services, who closely hold the Gaza and Palestine files, was postponed at the last minute.

Relations between the Sisi government and Hamas’ military and political leadership in Gaza are in the deep freezer, with no warming in sight.

After running Gaza for almost a decade, Hamas remains a pretender to power. It is firmly in the chair, but it has yet to meet the challenge of charting a path that will free Gaza, and Palestine, from a debilitating status quo, one that promises a new generation of Palestinians only misery and discontent.

Geoffrey Aronson writes about Middle Eastern affairs. He consults with a variety of public and private institutions dealing with regional political, security, and development issues.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.


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