Yaakov Lappin
The Jerusalem Post (Analysis)
October 12, 2011 - 12:00am

The Hamas regime in Gaza will be significantly fortified by the Schalit deal and see its standing in the Palestinian street, and the wider Arab-Muslim world, boosted.

Despite Israel’s overwhelming military superiority, Hamas has been able to force Jerusalem to negotiate with it as an equal partner, and has achieved the release of a large number of terrorists – some of whom were sentenced to life terms for personally murdering Israeli civilians.

Since the wave of turmoil began rocking the Middle East and North Africa, the Islamist enclave in Gaza, led by Ismail Haniyeh, and the Hamas politburo in Damascus, headed by Khaled Mashaal, had gazed on the region with some concern, fearing that Gaza’s population could one day rise up and demand greater freedoms.

Just a few months ago, Iran was Hamas’s only steadfast ally and patron in the international arena.

Fearing isolation and internal revolts, Hamas urgently tried to move the Schalit deal forward, knowing that jubilant scenes of released security prisoners stepping off buses and being embraced by relatives would be a huge public relations coup that will alleviate some of the pressure.

Today, Hamas’s position has become stronger, not only because of the Schalit deal, but also because Turkey, a growing regional power, is now competing with Iran over who can champion Hamas’s cause better.

Even more important, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Hamas’s sister organization, is poised to make major gains in the upcoming parliamentary elections – a development that seems bound to move Cairo tangibly closer to Gaza.

All of this is bad news for the nationalist Fatah government in Ramallah. In 2006, Hamas won a majority in Palestinian elections to parliament. A year later, Hamas gunmen stormed Fatah positions in Gaza and executed Fatah members in a coup that ejected Fatah from the Strip. Fatah’s grip on power in the West Bank is likely more shaky than meets the eye.

The national unity agreement signed by both sides in June is seen by most observers as an empty gesture designed to placate popular Palestinian demands for unity.

The Schalit deal will be used by Hamas to claim, yet again, that it is the most effective representative of the Palestinians.

Images of freed Palestinian prisoners will likely convince many Palestinians that Hamas is right.


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