Five years after Operation Protective Edge, Hamas remains as defiant as ever, and there are no signs that its rule over the Gaza Strip is facing any real challenges.
When it comes to ruling over the Gaza Strip, Hamas has but one objective: holding on to its power. While Hamas leaders have little to worry regarding their control, the conditions of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have only worsened since the 2014 war.
Ironically, Israel is imperative in helping Hamas hold on to power, and that’s why the cash-strapped Hamas is now focusing its efforts on maintaining truce understandings reached with Israel under the auspices of Egypt, the United Nations, and other parties, including Qatar.
Thousands of families are still waiting on Hamas to fulfill its promise in rebuilding their homes that were destroyed during the seven-week Israeli military operation. The families, which have been left no choice but to rent apartments, complain that Hamas has also failed to cover their rental expenses or compensate them for their losses because of the financial crisis it is fac-ing.
“We’ve received many promises, but haven’t seen anything,” said Ibrahim Mashharawi, a father of eight from Gaza City, whose house was severely damaged during the fighting. “Hamas says it can’t help us because it doesn’t have enough money. We received small amounts of money from some international organizations, but this hasn’t solved the crisis for thousands of displaced families.”
Hamas leaders continue to hold that the Israeli blockade, international and Palestinian Authority sanctions, as well as the failure of Arab and Islamic countries to fulfill their promises is responsible for the plight of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. “How can we help the people when we are living under siege?” asked an official from the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry.
“The people are suffering largely because of the Israeli blockade and the sanctions imposed on the Gaza Strip by [PA President] Mahmoud Abbas.”
In the past two years, the PA has cut salaries of thousands of employees and impoverished families in the Gaza Strip, further aggravating the economic crisis there. The PA measures are seen by Palestinians as an attempt by Abbas to undermine Hamas.
The Hamas-controlled Health Ministry says that 2,322 Palestinians were killed during the 2104 war, including 578 children age one month to 16 years, 489 women age 20 to 40, and 102 Palestinians age 50 to 80. It’s not clear, however, how many of the victims were members of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and other Palestinian groups.
For Hamas, the fact that the war did not end its rule over the Gaza Strip was sufficient to celebrate “victory.” Hamas leaders are convinced that Israel is not interested in removing their movement from power or launching a large-scale military offen-sive in the Gaza Strip.
“Hamas closely follows the debate inside Israel regarding the Gaza Strip,” said a veteran Gaza-based journalist with close links to the Hamas leadership. “The leaders of Hamas have concluded that the Israeli public does not support a reoccupation of the Gaza Strip. They [Hamas leaders] understand that Israel’s policy is to weaken Hamas, while making sure it remains in power for fear of total anarchy in the Gaza Strip. They also believe that Israel prefers reaching a long-term ceasefire with Hamas than going to war.”
The journalist and other Palestinian political analysts said Hamas fears a “popular revolt” against its regime more than war with Israel. They agreed, nonetheless, that so far it seems that the prospects of a major anti-Hamas revolt are slim. In March, Hamas used ruthless force to suppress widespread protests against economic hardship in various parts of the Gaza Strip. The protests, described as the worst since Hamas’s violent takeover of the Gaza Strip in 2007, were launched by several youth movements and political activists under the banner “We Want to Live!”
An ongoing crackdown by Hamas on its political opponents, particularly Fatah, has also served to tighten the movement’s grip on the Gaza Strip. According to Fatah officials, hundreds of their members in the Gaza Strip have been arrested and harassed by Hamas security forces in the past few years.
Hamas maintains that its military capabilities have not been affected by the 2014 war, claiming that it’s prepared for another military confrontation with Israel.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, however, disagree. They say that Hamas’s military capabilities have suffered a major blow since the war, particularly after the destruction of dozens of terror tunnels by the IDF.
“From a military point of view, Hamas is much weaker than it was in 2014,” said Gaza-based political analyst and human rights worker Abdel Rahman Nasser. “From a political point of view, Hamas remains strong despite its increased isolation and the sanctions imposed on the Gaza Strip by the Palestinian Authority. Today, it appears that Hamas is still in full control of the situation.”
The Egyptians, meanwhile, seem to have given up on their efforts to end the dispute between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah. Re-ports in the Palestinian media last week suggested that Cairo was considering resuming its mediation efforts to end the Hamas-Fatah rivalry and achieve Palestinian “national unity.” The reports, however, were quickly denied by the Egyptians.
Hamas leaders also appear to be well aware that under the current circumstances, it is almost impossible to reach any deal with Abbas and Fatah. They are convinced that striking a truce deal with Israel has become more realistic than ending the dispute between Hamas and Fatah.
In addition, Hamas is aware that a deal with Israel would serve as an insurance policy toward its continued rule over the Gaza Strip. That’s why Hamas leaders seem to be keener on reaching truce understandings with Israel than striking a deal with Abbas, whom they believe is more interested in removing their movement from power than achieving “na-tional unity.”
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