The Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas, has been unable to break the Israeli-led siege imposed on the Gaza Strip, despite its positive and unprecedented attention and response to many matters that were difficult to address in the past. After years of hit-and-run attacks, Israeli offensives, conferences, international meetings and resolutions, moving from one Arab capital to another and receiving financial and moral support from brothers and friends, the result has been nothing positive.
The movement has signed many agreements with its main rival, Fatah, but when it comes to implementation, they tend to fall down on the details, taking it back to square one every time; back where it started without making any notable progress. This is generally because there is little or no trust between the parties and each side is trying to exclude the other. The term “partnership” is just a slogan for local consumption, but the intentions are not honest.
Thus, Hamas is facing very difficult challenges in a metaphorical minefield, through which it needs to navigate unscathed, an almost impossible feat. Reconciliation with Fatah, it seems, is no longer a priority, as the situation has changed and the punitive measures imposed recently by the Palestinian Authority — controlled by Fatah, of course — have basically cut whatever ties were left to bind the two sides together. The matter of a ceasefire and breaking the siege has become more urgent in light of the harsh living conditions and suffering of more than two million people, whose only crime is that they live in a small, besieged area called the Gaza Strip.
Hamas has made some effort, though, and the truth is that it has succeeded to some extent in creating a good relationship with the Egyptian authorities, gaining their confidence and trust. Egypt is a key player in the Palestinian issue, especially with regards to Gaza.
However, none of the Egyptian efforts to establish a sustainable ceasefire and lift the siege have been successful, largely due to Israel’s tactical stalling of any understandings reached; different excuses come up every time. It looks as if Israel is more interested in prolonging the crisis until after its own General Election in April.
Egypt’s task as mediator is difficult as it is trying to spare Gaza another destructive Israeli military offensive that may be in the offing and to lift the siege. Cairo does not want to step on the PA’s toes, though, given that it represents political legitimacy in Palestine in the eyes of the world. Closing the Rafah Border Crossing after the PA withdrew its security staff is an example of how difficult the task can be.
Hamas, meanwhile, seems convinced that empowering the government in Gaza means the beginning of the end for the movement, so it is striving to get out with the least possible damage. It is very aware of what is at stake so, on the one hand it is trying to challenge the PA and its punitive measures imposed on Gaza since the dissolution of the Palestinian Legislative Council, while on the other hand it is trying to exercise self-restraint in terms of Israel’s military provocations as the occupying power seeks excuses to block any progress made towards a ceasefire. By imposing a suffocating siege on Gaza that has paralysed every aspect of life in the enclave, it seems that Israel is backing Hamas into a corner and forcing it to engage in an asymmetrical military conflict in which logic and reason dictate that the movement will be the weaker side.
The Islamic Resistance Movement’s options have thus become limited, as has its capacity to endure everything that is thrown at it. As such, it can expect some fateful days ahead, with difficult decisions to be made. There may well be yet another Israeli military offensive followed by another truce and the lifting of the siege, or a reconciliation agreement under strong Egyptian and Arab pressure with guarantees for each side.
Translated from Arabi21, 16 January 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.