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Shadi Abu Obeid (L), a member of the Palestinian Fatah movement, is greeted by a relative in Gaza City after his release from a Hamas prison on October 1, 2017..(Photo by: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)
Hamas’s failure
It is an important lesson for would-be Islamists everywhere that a reactionary version of Islam is not the answer to the pressing socioeconomic problems facing Gaza.
The resounding failure of the Hamas leadership to run day-to-day aspects of life in Gaza is the backdrop for the most recent attempt at a Palestinian unity deal.

But Hamas insists on a Hezbollah-like arrangement that will let it monopolize military might in Gaza while the Palestinian Authority takes over responsibility for the civilian population.

The international community must reject any deal that keeps Hamas’s military arm intact, unless of course Hamas agrees to renounce terrorism, honors past agreements between Israel and Fatah and supports peaceful negotiations with Israel as the only road to Palestinian political self-determination.

After a decade of trying to implement their version of a modern-day Islamic caliphate in the Gaza Strip, Hamas has given up. Its reactionary Islamist ideology has put it at odds with Egypt’s leadership. In parallel, Saudi Arabia is leading a campaign against Qatar, the patron of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas’s mother organization. Islamists who came to power with the slogan “Islam is the answer” have realized after a decade that even running a tiny coastal enclave is impossible while cleaving to a Muslim theology that leaves no room for compromise and pragmatism.

Unable to dialogue with Egypt, Hamas faces an unremitting blockade on its southern border. Its military clashes with Israel have left Gaza in ruins. Hamas cannot even settle its differences with the Palestinian leadership on the West Bank.

The results of Hamas’s intransigence are tragically evident.

Paralyzing electricity shortages leave Gaza’s inhabitants with just five hours of electricity per day; running water is scarce and the overpumping of aquifers has resulted in saltwater seeping into the aquifer; unemployment rates are skyrocketing; the rebuilding of Gaza after the 2014 conflict with Israel is stalled.

Yahya Sinwar and Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s two most senior leaders in Gaza, are acutely aware that they are on the verge of a popular uprising. That is why they have agreed to hand over control of civilian matters to the Palestinian Authority as part of a national unity agreement.

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah arrived in Gaza heading a huge contingent of PA politicians and officials. The plan, which is being overseen by Egyptian security forces, is to transfer control over civilian matters in Gaza to the PA. As part of the deal, the PA and Egypt will end the sanctions in place against Hamas. The PA will begin footing the bill for electricity provided by Israel to Gaza; money earmarked for salaries will be transferred from the PA’s coffers; the Egyptian border crossing will be reopened.

Sinwar and Haniyeh, perhaps looking to the Hezbollah model in southern Lebanon, hope that by ceding sanitation, health, infrastructure and local government to the PA – with its massive backing from the US, the EU and other countries – Hamas will succeed in maintaining its military strength without risking the complete meltdown of Gaza.

But as long as Hamas remains committed to its core ideology and maintains the military might to carry out attacks against Israel and continue ties with jihadists operating in the Sinai Peninsula, the region will not be safe. The international community must tear the Hamas leadership from the notion that it can continue to use Gaza as a launching pad for attacks on Israel while washing its hands of responsibility for the civilian population of Gaza.

For there to be any real change in relations between Israel and a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, the Islamist organization will have to accept the conditions set down a decade ago by the Middle East Quartet (US, UN, EU and Russia): Desist from terrorism, recognize Israel’s right to exist, honor previous agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israel and support a negotiated peace agreement.

But Hamas has no intention of changing its ideology.

Why should it? The terrorist group won elections in 2006, the last time the Palestinians went to the polls, and remains exceedingly popular today. Besides, Hamas’s platform is the political expression of religious beliefs rooted in Islam, or at least the way Islam is interpreted by those close to Muslim Brotherhood ideology. Compromise on the issue of Israel is tantamount to compromising religious faith.

It is an important lesson for would-be Islamists everywhere that a reactionary version of Islam is not the answer to the pressing socioeconomic problems facing Gaza. But as long as Hamas retains military power in Gaza, there will be no peace or stability.
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