After Israel’s withdrawal of its settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the coastal enclave has functioned as the centre of Hamas’s political activity. This became even more obvious following the movement’s election victory in 2006 when it dedicated itself to a “decisive military attack”, a position that was very different to the sentiments prevailing in the occupied West Bank.
While Israel did withdraw its occupation forces from Gaza it had, in 2002, actually reoccupied parts of the West Bank from which its troops had withdrawn previously. If we consider the ongoing military occupation and colonisation of the West Bank post-Oslo as the main catalyst for the dismantling of Palestinian resistance across the territory, we must also pause to consider how it has had an impact on Hamas. Israeli forces have repeatedly arrested many of the university students affiliated with the resistance movement, due to which many have taken more than ten years to finish their university degrees. This especially holds true for students in Al-Quds University, Abu Dis University and Bir Zeit University, and those who live in villages and towns around the West Bank.
Despite all of this, the West Bank has managed to retain much of its value in the eyes of Hamas, although many efforts have been made to eradicate its presence there and the rest of the territories occupied in 1967. These have included extreme prejudice towards the group on the one hand and weakening its decision-making power by arresting officials and elected parliamentarians on the other.
Beyond the occupied Palestinian territories, Hamas achieved success when its political bureau was based in Syria and it managed to foster strong regional relations with Iran and groups like Hezbollah. In this regard, the group has formed alliances that are extremely important to its survival, especially in light of the circumstances working against it in the Palestinian territories since the outbreak of the Aqsa intifada in 2000.
However, the weight of the movement’s accomplishments abroad have regressed due to the difficulties it has faced on the home front following the election and subsequent post-2006 reality, which has seen it try to re-distribute powers in the West Bank, Gaza and abroad. The recent events affecting the region, the conflict in Syria in particular, have had an impact on Hamas’s gains overseas as a legitimate political movement. Moreover, this regression has also in large part been due to the hostile campaigns that many Arab countries have waged towards the movement.
The dynamics changed dramatically for Hamas after Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi led a coup in Egypt against the Muslim Brotherhood. This resulted in the tightening of the siege on Gaza by the Israelis and the Egyptians. Last year’s Israeli war against Gaza left the enclave’s infrastructure devastated. Coupled with the aggression waged on the Strip by Israel and Egypt alike this has created an existential crisis of sorts for Hamas. The stakes grow higher as though the resistance movement is being forced to pay the price for its external relationships and advances abroad.
More importantly, it must be noted that if the status quo in the West Bank remains as it is, Hamas will not only have the sole responsibility for maintaining Palestinian resistance but it will also need to establish relationships with outside parties, since many Arab countries are hitting them where it hurts.
Many of the crises facing Hamas at the moment have to do with internal problems and the search for ways to deal with the situation on the home front, which Hamas believes is very important. There is no magic solution to the problems at hand; if Hamas resumes its relationship with Iran, which is what Iran wants to happen, it will not solve the impending crisis that is embodied by the siege on Gaza thanks to Israel and Egypt. Nor will the restoration of certain relationships solve the problems facing the group in northern Arab countries, for example.
Despite the need to consider the factors that have led up to the current crises faced by Hamas subjectively and seriously, we must keep in mind these three main points:
- We must bear in mind that Hamas, as a movement, is currently based in an area that is extremely hostile and that there are larger powers at play that are not in favour of the movement or its initiatives. There are also certain complexities that have caused major shifts in the region at large and, in reality, these circumstances are determined by political forces and policies that are much more powerful than the movement’s capabilities at present.
- The divided nature of the Palestinian territories and the Palestinian cause is the main factor for which one can attribute the divisions within the movement’s leadership. These divisions affect our people as a whole and therefore make it difficult for Hamas to centralise its political movement and tackle all of its crises in a unified and definite manner.
- What we need to do is address the current problems facing the Palestinian people, not exacerbate them, and that requires a unified vision and policy on how to treat the movement’s problems. Hamas cannot afford nor should it allow for outside forces to tamper with internal matters because if such forces continue to be stronger than the will of the movement, our internal problems will never be solved; the outcome will only lead us to more organisational flaws.
Translated from Arabi21, 17 February, 2015
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.