Shunned and Isolated, Hamas Reaches Unprecedented Low in Gaza

With anti-government demonstrations at home and a new chill from Cairo and Tehran, the Islamist organization is in a tight spot all around.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

The excuse Iran gave to the political leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshal, was clear and pointed: "We’re busy with the Syrian crisis and with building our international relations, so perhaps it would be better to postpone your visit."

Ahmed Yousef, a former adviser to the Hamas prime minister of the Gaza Strip, Ismail Haniyeh, was describing Tehran's response to a Hamas delegation trying to organize a visit by Meshal to Iran aimed at putting Gaza-Tehran relations in order.

Iran’s fury at Hamas for criticizing the Assad regime in Syria is not new, and the break between Tehran and Gaza City is close to total.

Now there's an additional complication. The Iran of President Hassan Rohani prefers to enter the Middle East arena through the front door rather than by means of "non-centrist" organizations.

That is precisely Hamas’s problem. It was kicked by Iran and then "sentenced to death" by Egypt, in the words of a senior Hamas official. Jordan won't let the organization open an active branch there and Qatar sends small change with a promise of more. But with the Rafah crossing to Egypt open fitfully (it’s been closed for the last three days) and Israel impeding the entry into the Strip of building materials, the aid from Qatar has little impact.

The crisis in Hamas’s relations with Arab states has recently been exacerbated by problems at home. The Tamarod Gaza movement, its name copied from the Egyptian youth protest movement that instigated the recent coup there, is organizing mass demonstrations on November 11, the anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death.

Tamarod Gaza’s website is already advising Gazans to obtain a week’s food supply and remain at home, in anticipation of attacks by Hamas forces.

Tamarod Gaza spokeswoman Hind al-Arabi told Egypt’s Dream TV that the movement intends to topple the Hamas government, mainly due to its oppressive measures and because it has become “a protective agent helping Israel.”

Walls in Gaza are now filled with graffiti calling for an end to Hamas rule, while Palestinian media outlets in the West Bank report Gazans' dissatisfaction with the Hamas regime and their loss of personal security. One example was the murder of a young Gazan man by a group of thugs, who then celebrated by dining on his grave - with no interference from the security forces, who even tried to keep the incident secret for fear of public fury.

Hamas is not indifferent to the internal threats. Last week the heads of the security forces met in a Gaza mosque with senior Hamas political figures including Mahmoud al-Zahar and Interior Minister Fathi Hamad to discuss ways to combat Tamarod Gaza.

Hamad, who is in charge of domestic security, called for assassinating the group's leaders. Zahar stepped in to say Hamad's demands should not be taken literally while advocating harsh measures against the activists.

For now members of the security forces have taken to the streets, some in plainclothes, in a bid to monitor and deter the activists.

Tamarod representatives say they do not fear a confrontation and expect a million demonstrators.

It is hard to assess the extent of the rebellion against Hamas, but judging by Haniyeh's aggressive rhetoric and recent shows of force in the form of street parades by Iz A-Din Al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, the government seems to be feeling the heat.

Hamas’s political distress is not unrelated to the economic crisis in the Gaza Strip, which has worsened since July's military coup in Egypt to an extent that threatens Hamas’s ability to govern.

The Deputy Economy Minister of Hamas, Hatem Oweida, said Sunday that Egypt's closure of the smuggling tunnels into the Strip costs the Gazan economy $230 million a month. He said half of Gaza’s economy depends on the tunnels and there are no funds to create new jobs or to pay Hamas's 40,000 employees. Unemployment has rebounded to 2008 levels of around 43%, and exports are just 9% of production.

Adding to the misery, the UN Relief and Works Agency recently announced it will have to scale back aid to around 10,000 Palestinian refugees in the Strip. Gazans increasingly complain about the soaring prices of basic goods, the shortage of building materials and the hardship posed to thousands seeking to leave the territory as a result of the Rafah crossing closures.

Ostensibly, Israel should be happy about the internal and external pressures on the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip, especially in light of the fact that much of its work has been done by Egypt, in destroying the tunnels and closing the crossing. The rift between Hamas and Iran also coincides with Israeli interests.

But the satisfaction comes with a constant threat. Hamas, in its distress and in a bid to regain the attention of the Arab states, may be tempted to lobby rockets at Israel for the express purpose of evoking the automatic Israeli response.

That would enable Hamas to disrupt the peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians and to set new ground rules for the cease-fire while forcing Egypt to change its policies.

Israel should not conduct separate negotiations with Hamas, but current conditions give Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas an opportunity to implement the conciliation agreement with Hamas under more favorable terms and to lay the ground for bringing Hamas into the peace process. It is doubtful whether Israel or Abbas will use the present circumstances as political leverage. They are both convinced that one day Hamas will evaporate.

Click the alert icon to follow topics:

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

SUBSCRIBE
Already signed up? LOG IN

ICYMI

Charles Lindbergh addressing an America First Committee rally on October 3, 1941.

Ken Burns’ Brilliant ‘The U.S. and the Holocaust’ Has Only One Problem

The projected rise in sea level on a beach in Haifa over the next 30 years.

Facing Rapid Rise in Sea Levels, Israel Could Lose Large Parts of Its Coastline by 2050

Tal Dilian.

As Israel Reins in Its Cyberarms Industry, an Ex-intel Officer Is Building a New Empire

Queen Elizabeth II, King Charles III and a British synagogue.

How the Queen’s Death Changes British Jewry’s Most Distinctive Prayer

Newly appointed Israeli ambassador to Chile, Gil Artzyeli, poses for a group picture alongside Rabbi Yonatan Szewkis, Chilean deputy Helia Molina and Gerardo Gorodischer, during a religious ceremony in a synagogue in Vina del Mar, Chile last week.

Chile Community Leaders 'Horrified' by Treatment of Israeli Envoy

Queen Elizabeth attends a ceremony at Windsor Castle, in June 2021.

Over 120 Countries, but Never Israel: Queen Elizabeth II's Unofficial Boycott