AMMAN: Long after the dust of the latest attack on Gaza has settled, the Hamas movement — the predominant power in the Gaza Strip — has yet to overcome the political fallout of its refusal to join fellow Islamic Jihad in retaliation against Israel.
Leading Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki told Arab News that Hamas failed to consider the arrest of Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader in Jenin Bassam Saadi a national threat requiring a military response from the Gaza Strip.
“But it seems Hamas did see the assassination of Islamic Jihad commander Tayseer Al-Jabari as a threat requiring a military response, but only a limited one. Yet even in response to the latter, Hamas held its guns while allowing Islamic Jihad to defend itself and bear the brunt of the Israeli war machine.”
Shikaki, a professor of political science and director of the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, told Arab News that Hamas’ decision was “wise, but it might cost it some popular support.”
Comments by Palestinian political activists and social media were not as kind to the Hamas movement, which has often attacked other figures and groups for their silence.
They compared the passive Hamas position to how the Ramallah leadership has behaved in order to protect some of the benefits of governing.
Jamal Dajani, former communications director of the Palestinian Prime Ministry, told Arab News that Hamas understood that the new Israeli leadership initiated the attack on Gaza for political gain.
“Hamas did not bite the bait and showed self-restraint avoiding a prolonged war causing more death and destruction,” he said.
Shikaki believes that both Egypt and Israel will value Hamas’ behavior and will reward the movement by providing greater economic facilities, allowing it to consolidate control over the Gaza Strip.
“Israel will hope that this will provide Hamas with the means to exert greater leverage over Islamic Jihad and ensure a long-term quietness,” said Shikaki.
“Ultimately, those in Israel who call for direct Israel-Hamas dialogue, particularly with the Israeli security sector, will gain more points and use this episode to prove that Hamas is not bound by ideology alone and that it is a pragmatic organization with whom Israel can make long-term deals.
“Internally, however, Islamic Jihad-Hamas relations might become tense. Hamas-Palestinian Authority relations might also worsen, as greater Hamas control over Gaza might create conditions in which the Ramallah leadership loses any prospects for a return to control the strip any time soon,” said Shikaki.
Zaha Hassan, a human rights lawyer and fellow with the Middle East Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Arab News that Hamas was always interested in showing itself to be the “real” resistance to Israeli occupation when the Fatah-led Palestinian government was standing by in escalations of violence, such as during May 2021.
“The latest bombardment by Israel in Gaza forced Hamas to stay on the sidelines not wanting to cause economic fallout that would invariably result in access restrictions.
“But if Hamas’ popularity has been based on it being the real resistance, particularly when Al-Aqsa is involved, keeping quiet during the march of hundreds of Israeli right-wing activists on the Haram Al-Sharif for the ‘temple’ destruction commemoration was not a good look for the organization.”
But Samar Muhareb, an Amman-based civil society activist and a close watcher of the Palestinian issue, took a different view.
Muhareb, executive director of the Amman-based Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development, said that what was important was to look at the gains of the resistance by Islamic Jihad.
She told Arab News that the cycle of violence in Gaza had been frustrating.
“Despite all the disappointments and losses, the resistance in Gaza came out with tangible accomplishments on the ground that will lead to change if Israel continues in its madness within the fragile ceasefire.”
By looking at the economic benefits, Ofer Salzberg, Middle East program director at the Herbert Kelman Institute for Conflict Transformation, told Arab News that Hamas’ decision was “more economic than ideological.”
He added: “Hamas choosing to stay out of the fighting provided a tailwind to the dominant recommendation of Israel’s defense officialdom: To strengthen the Gazan economy despite Hamas’ rule in order to defer wars.”