Hamas Trying to Sell 'Victory' to Gazans

With Egypt and Israel recognizing it, Hamas can claim an achievement. But the question remains: Could it lead to a Palestinian release from the bonds of the Oslo Accords?

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Gazans celebrating the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, August 26, 2014.
Gazans celebrating the cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, August 26, 2014.Credit: AFP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Israel and Hamas understood that they had arrived at a kind of a draw. Israel's ability to militarily grind the other side will always be greater than that of Hamas, but the Palestinian threshold of suffering and its ability to absorb the blows is greater than that of Israel by an order of magnitude. The Israel Defense Forces and the military wing of Hamas could have continued demonstrating their asymmetrical armed power for a few more weeks, at the expense of the lives and homes of thousands more Palestinians and at the expense of the lives and property of a few Israelis and the worn out nerves of the citizens of Israel.

During the first two or three weeks of the war, the Palestinian public in Gaza – including the majority, which is not the Hamas hard-core – supported the Muqawama (resistance, meaning the military wings ) almost in their entirety, despite the heavy civilian losses. Afterwards, however, it lost not only its fortitude to suffer, but also its belief in the political logic of extending the military campaign and in Hamas' negotiating skills. That message certainly got through to the Hamas and Islamic Jihad activists and their leaders.

As expected, Hamas spokesmen were quick to sell the cease-fire as a victory over Israel. If they compromise and, in the coming weeks, speak of "achievements," they have a better chance of persuasion; it will be sufficient to quote some of the Israeli newspapers on the military surprises that Hamas prepared and its ability to find Israeli weak spots.

Hamas can certainly claim a diplomatic achievement: Egypt spoke directly with Hamas representatives in order to get their agreement to the current cease-fire. PLO representatives on the joint negotiations delegation in Cairo did not participate in this successful round of the talks. A senior PLO source told Haaretz that delegation members who were not Hamas or Islamic Jihad did not even insist on being kept in the loop. Hamas understood long ago that the coup against Mohammed Morsi in Egypt had created a new reality and overturned the political and regional forecasts it had counted on before.

But it turns out that even Egypt, which refused to speak directly with an organization that is part of the Muslim Brotherhood, understood that it had no other option: Hamas is a key political organization in the Palestinian arena. If Egypt wants to fill the role of political and regional leader, it cannot dismiss Hamas as a terrorist organization that can be crushed.

Despite everything, after more than 2,100 deaths, among them 518 children and 296 women (according to the figures of the Mezan human rights organization); over 10,000 wounded; more than 10,000 buildings that were bombed and wrecked, including some 2,800 which were completely destroyed; how is it possible to describe as a victory an agreement that does not even include an important term that Hamas demanded from the start of the war: international guarantees that Israel will carry out its commitments, especially the "lifting of the blockade?"

Hamas' spokesmen raised expectations with their demand that the "blockade be lifted." Though important to Hamas, the sea port and airport had little significance to the public. Allowing goods into the Strip - especially raw materials and construction materials - is positive, but people in Gaza were speaking more and more about the resumption of contact between Gaza and the West Bank, about regaining their freedom of movement, not only to go abroad but also within the country, at least the areas that were occupied in 1967.

The separation between Gaza and the West Bank – which contravenes the Oslo Accords, yet deepened during the Oslo negotiations – has been a pillar of Israeli policy over the past 21 years (together with the expansion of settlements and the establishment of Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank). Israel has not changed its policy and it is difficult to believe that it will "remove the blockade" in accordance with the very logical expectations of the Palestinians.

But another round of fighting in the near future does not seem likely. Hamas' ability to rearm is limited.

Now the question is whether Hamas and Fatah can overcome their mutual aversion and succeed in creating a joint political strategy.

If they do, such a strategy would need to free them from the bonds of the Oslo Accords, and involve popular resistance and a resolute diplomatic and legal campaign. At the same time, it would also need to prevent any of the individual Palestinian groups from imposing a military path on all the rest.

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