The times are different for Gaza, and they are different for Hamas. And just as the recent confrontation in the Gaza Strip represented a new test of the ability of Israel’s offensives to inflict human casualties and material damage among the ranks of the Palestinians, as if we needed further Palestinian bloodshed to discover this, it also represented a test for the Islamist movement and for its courageous hesitation to move forward in taking the risk of such a costly confrontation.
Hamas refrained from taking part in the recent escalation against the Gaza Strip, despite the fact that the other factions considered it to be a response to Israel carrying out the assassination of Secretary-General of the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC) Zuhair Al-Qaisi, along with a commander of the Al-Quds Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) movement. Israel justified this as a response to the PRC targeting Israeli tourists at the Egyptian border last summer. Hamas’s stance on the recent confrontation seemed to represent a new strategy for the movement, one that gives priority to political work, this without abandoning the principle of “resistance” it has followed for the five years since it took control of Gaza.
This in any case is the analysis of Hamas’s stance reached by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, in the words of PIJ official Abdullah Al-Shami, who considered that his movement was not in competition with Hamas over popular leadership, but was indeed in competition with it over resistance. Of course, Shami concluded that Hamas had been the greater loser in this confrontation, after it had succeeded at “thrusting the Islamist movement into a corner”, as he said.
Meanwhile, Nafez Azzam, a member of the PFJ’s political bureau, considered that Hamas’s rise to power had affected its role in Palestinian resistance, and in responding to the recent Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip. He added that “the recent escalation did not witness any coordination between the Islamic Jihad movement and our brethren in Hamas, despite the good relationship we share with them”.
There is a new climate of transformation in political positions which is now imposing itself on Palestinian factions, and which reflects the new alliances that are now dominating the movement of these factions and their political discourse. One of the signs of these transformations has been the recent split between Hamas and the Syrian leadership, due to disagreements between the movement’s leaders and Damascus over the violent methods employed by the Syrian leadership to suppress the uprising. On the other hand, there is rapprochement between the Islamic Jihad and the Popular Resistance Committees in the Gaza Strip on the one hand, and the Iranian leadership on the other. Added to this is the role played by Tehran in widening the rift of disagreements between Hamas leaders after their recent reconciliation agreement with Fatah, which reflected on the steps taken to form the Palestinian national unity government.
The recent confrontation in the Gaza Strip represented the first test for the Hamas movement and its new position, after the choices it recently made had, under the influence of the Syrian uprising and the Arab Spring, been characterized by a high level of realism it had not been known to display in the past. A quick review of Hamas’s recent discourse, compared to what it had it had been during the war and the siege of Gaza at the end of 2008, suffices to indicate such a transformation. Indeed, Hamas now plays the role of mediator for truce, through the Egyptian mediation between Israel and the PIJ, which Cairo had been an essential partner in arranging. This role played by Hamas resembles nothing if not the role played by the Palestinian Authority led by Abu Mazen over three years ago, between Hamas and the Israelis, and through the Egyptian mediation as well, to try to stop Israel’s gratuitous killing of Palestinians.
Most worrying about these recent transformations on the Palestinian scene would be for the issue of Palestine to have returned to be a game exploited by this or that Arab or regional regime to serve its own interests, as we have witnessed in past decades. Indeed, it is no coincidence for such a confrontation to have been “ignited” in Gaza at a time when the Syrian regime is going through its current crisis, and while Iran is experiencing concerns over its confrontation with the West because of the nuclear issue. It is an exercise at diverting attention that is worth, in the view of those responsible for and benefiting from it, the sacrifice of an adventure in Gaza which has cost at least 25 Palestinian lives, while not a single Israeli has fallen.