The hollow victories of Hamas

Without minimising the importance of any military achievement against Israel, we should not forget that Israel is investing in dividing the Palestinians.
Sunday 25/11/2018
Hamas leader Ismail Haniya (C) flashes the victory sign at the Israel-Gaza border, on October 12. (AFP)
Shortsighted perceptions. Hamas leader Ismail Haniya (C) flashes the victory sign at the Israel-Gaza border, on October 12. (AFP)

The recent violent confrontations between the Israeli military and Hamas fighters in Gaza came to a noticeably abrupt halt after mediation by Egypt and international and regional interventions. The explanation for that lies in the fact that the clashes in Gaza were not connected to the political context related to preparations for a comprehensive and long-term truce that are being arranged by international, regional and Arab parties. They include the alleviation of the siege on Gaza, improving living conditions there and boosting the economic situation with projects and investments.

We have already witnessed the first signs of these plans with the public and satellite TV display of the arrival of Qatari funds and their distribution in Gaza, with Israel’s knowledge.

It is clear also that these clashes were not related to the wishes of the two parties concerned. Israel has no desire to end or weaken Hamas’s rule in Gaza. For its part, Hamas does not wish to start a fourth destructive war with Israel like the ones in 2008, 2012 and 2014, particularly in the context of the severe international and regional mood towards it.

This time, however, one cannot but notice Hamas’s reaction. Soon after the recent fighting, Hamas began celebrating what it saw as a victory in Gaza over the Israeli army, just because the Israeli operation failed and Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman resigned. For Hamas, these two events were signs of a great victory over Israel.

Without wishing to belittle the bravery of the fighters who responded to the Israeli patrol in this small and limited battle and aborted its mission, raising the event to the level of a decisive victory by Hamas over Israel carries within it dubious and dangerous exaggerations. It is also indicative of shortsighted, hasty and potentially destructive political and military perceptions. The truth is that there is no comparison possible between Israel’s military capabilities and those of Hamas and of all the other Palestinian factions for that matter.

First, the comparison is not possible in terms of numbers or equipment, let alone in terms of organisation and operations.

Second, the fact that Hamas regarded Lieberman’s resignation as a victory is indicative of its naive and mistaken perception of the modus operandi of the Israeli political system. Lieberman resigned because the army did not obey him and because he wanted to push for further escalation in Gaza, while the political and military establishments in Israel simply wanted to pressure Hamas, not weaken it. So when will Palestinian leaders understand that the resignation of an Israeli official because of a failed mission is one aspect of Israel’s strength and the strength of its political system? It is indeed a sign of the power of accountability and not the opposite.

Third, Hamas completely misinterpreted Lieberman’s resignation. The latter resigned in order to garner the sympathy of Israeli voters and increase his popularity and chances in upcoming elections, for, as everyone knows, Lieberman and his party (Yisrael Beiteinu) were falling in the polls.

Fourth, Hamas’s victory celebration was intended to mobilise Palestinian society, especially in Gaza, and thus alleviate the public pressure placed on Hamas’s leadership. We know that since the June 1967 defeat, Arab regimes have frequently sought to foster a festive atmosphere following conflicts, considering their mere survival to be a victory over Israel. Reality, however, paints a different picture.

Despite the sacrifices and heroism of three devastating wars in Gaza, the strip is still besieged. It has been so for 11 years now, and 2 million Palestinians continue to suffer as a result. Hamas was closer than ever before to a truce and to the solution of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza with the added advantage of relying on popular resistance, as we have seen. In other words, and in order to maintain its control of Gaza, Hamas has become receptive to many things that it rejected in the past.

Lastly, and without minimising the importance of any military achievement against Israel, we should not forget that Israel is investing in dividing the Palestinians and in the power struggle between Fatah and Hamas. Because of this division, Israel will be able to manipulate each authority separately and impose its dictates. The plan is to consecrate the Palestinian split and transform each movement into an independent authority in its respective territory subjected to Israel’s political, security and economic dominance. It is within the context of this plan that Israel is backing Hamas’s control of Gaza.

Once again, this is not about belittling the achievement of the resistance, but falling into the trap of unjustified exaggeration is also wrong, harmful and useful only for escalating the rivalry between the Palestinian factions. It is also wrong to ascribe the heavy responsibility of liberating Palestine or even just resisting Israel to the Gaza Strip alone, a small, isolated and poor Palestinian territory, without resources and besieged.

To keep things in perspective, consider the fact that the number of Israeli casualties in the West Bank is much higher, but Israel is determined to remain in the West Bank, while it withdrew from Gaza in 2005 because of its own considerations having to do with changing demographics.

Furthermore, the importance of the West Bank in Zionist ideology is quite different from that of Gaza. For Zionists, the West Bank is the “Promised Land” or “Judea and Samaria,” the heart of Israel and its vital area.

In the meantime, it is useful for us to realise that Israel, which is riddled with contradictions, is not only stronger than us by its military might and the unflinching support of the United States, as some in the Arab world like to repeat to cover up Arab shortcomings and deficiencies; it is also stronger than us primarily because of the way it conducts its affairs, its democratic system (reserved only for its Israeli Jewish citizens) and its human resources development policies. Suffice it to say that in just 70 years, there have been in Israel 12 heads of government and 20 Knesset elections; that is to say an average of six years in office per prime minister and 4 years per Knesset term.

This is indeed the most important difference between us and them, not to mention of course our tendency to celebrate senseless and useless “victories,” especially in the catastrophic conditions that we have been living in for decades.