Jerusalem, Unidentified: Hamas has declared “winning” following a ceasefire with Israel, but observers say the Palestinian Islamist group’s success lay more in marginalizing its political foe Fatah than in battle.
Large crowds waving Palestinian flags cheered the return of quiet to the Hamas-run enclave of Gaza on Friday, after 11 days of Israeli bombings on the coastal strip — and rocket firing in the opposite way.
“This is the euphoria of victory,” senior Hamas figure Khalil al-Hayya told jubilant Palestinians in the densely populated enclave after the Egypt-brokered truce.
In reaction to recurrent conflicts between Palestinians and Israeli security forces within occupied East Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Hamas launched a barrage of heavy rocket fire from Gaza at Israel on May 10.
According to Israel, Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired over 4,300 missiles, an unprecedented level of fire, even though the majority of the rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome defensive system or fell short.
A major factor in Hamas’ own claim to victory lies in “being seen as defending Palestinian rights, especially in relation to Jerusalem — and (in) facing down Israel”, Hugh Lovatt, a policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, told AFP.
Jamal al-Fadi, a professor of political science in Gaza, said Hamas feels victorious “because it was able to strike deep inside Israel… (and) Israel could not prevent it”.
Despite the Gaza Strip’s 14-year embargo, Fadi said the terrorists have demonstrated their capacity to build up a large arsenal.
On the other hand, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hailed Israel’s “extraordinary success” in bombarding Gaza with aircraft and mortar fire, claiming that “more than 200 terrorists” had been killed.
The Jewish state may “point to its degrading of Hamas military capabilities”, Lovatt stated.
However, one area where Hamas may claim a definite triumph is in further marginalizing Fatah, the Palestinian Authority’s ruling party based in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.
Since the previous Palestinian elections, Hamas and Fatah, a secular movement led by President Mahmud Abbas, have been at odds, with a minor rapprochement in recent months.
These elections, held in 2006, were won by Hamas, which forced Fatah out of Gaza the following year, almost triggering a Palestinian civil war.
Elections were scheduled for May 22, but Abbas, who is 86 years old, abruptly postponed them earlier this month, further alienating Hamas.
Hamas saw elections as a way “to relieve itself from the burden of governance by eventually bringing back the PA” to poverty-stricken Gaza, Lovatt told AFP.
“The prospect of… a government of national unity which Hamas would (have) supported or been a member of could have allowed for more progress,” he added.
“But because the path for political engagement was closed, they had to reconfigure their calculations.”
Hamas utilizes cycles of violence to force Israel to make “concessions” in Gaza, such as easing import restrictions and increasing export permits for people.
According to Hussein Ibish, a Middle East specialist, “frequent outbursts of violence constitute Hamas’ greatest competitive edge” versus Fatah.
“They claim to be the defenders of Palestine… in contrast to a supine PA government,” he added.
Fadi said: “Abbas has become powerless… His political performance is no longer acceptable to the public.”
His term began in 2009, the same year that Netanyahu began his 12th year as Prime Minister of Israel.
Netanyahu’s governments have expanded settlements, which many in the international community consider being illegal, while the United States has recognized Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital.
According to Fadi, it remains to be seen if Hamas, which the US and the European Union have labeled a “terrorist group,” would be able to manage the post-conflict period, particularly the issue of rebuilding Gaza.
The ceasefire with Israel, according to Lovatt, is “extremely shaky.”
“There is no reason to believe it’s going to be any more sustainable than the past ones — so it’s just a question of when… the next war” erupts, he said.