The Hamas Card and the Israeli Withdrawal of Gaza

Posted in Israel / Palestine | 19-Aug-05 | Author: Jonathan Feiser

Palestinian supporters of the Islamic Hamas movement carry Hamas flags, as they prepare to celebrate the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, in Gaza City, Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2005.

As the military phase of the Gaza withdrawal shifts into second gear, political leaderships on both sides are becoming inescapably invested in making the disengagement work. On the ground and within Palestinian society, the future of the region in general and Gaza in particular -- as well as the West Bank -- remains undeniably located within the agenda of Hamas.

Ensuring a Permanent Withdrawal

For reasons of expediency and public relations, in this phase most Palestinians want to prevent any form of direct Israeli military retaliation. They realize that it is in their direct interests to prove that they can manage the Israeli withdrawal as well as the implications of its aftermath. Moreover, it is in the interests of their primary supporter, Hamas, that no negative military or political attention is brought upon them at this very precise time of historical realignment.

Moreover, it is within the womb of Israel's "defensible borders" campaign that the "Gaza model" of good governance and fulfillment of security responsibilities can be applied. A military intervention by the Israeli Defense Forces (I.D.F.) based in retaliatory response to a Hamas intervention would most likely terminally tax the legitimacy of the Gaza model and, as an internal domestic Israeli issue, embolden those that wish to take power from Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The need of Palestinian Authority (P.A.) leader Mahmoud Abbas to control developments on the ground to vindicate the facts of success as they occur will remain a continuous theme of the withdrawal. Indeed, success on the ground will remain closely linked to his own authenticity and that of his domestic constituency within Palestine in general and Gaza in particular.

Nevertheless, the legitimacy of Hamas remains a powerful gravitational force. A younger generation of Palestinians -- not emotionally linked to the nationalism inspired by former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat -- who spent their lives in refugee camps, prefers to remove the old guard of P.A. leaders that seek to tenuously hold onto power.

While one direct consequence of the Israeli withdrawal will be the temporary empowerment of Abbas, this honeymoon will not last long. Even with economic aid from the United States and the United Nations, Hamas, already extensively powerful in the hearts of a majority of Palestinians, will concisely find itself in a position of unparalleled bargaining power.

The absence of effective logistical and security infrastructure in the vacuum that will follow the withdrawal of Israeli forces remains a critical consequence in the aftermath of the overall withdrawal. At the close of the Six Day War of 1967, security on these border zones remained intimately linked to Israeli national existence. Land for peace equated to the demilitarization of the Sinai Peninsula by former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat while at present there exists no concrete alternative political or security arrangement that dictates any semblance of stability in the vacuum left by Israeli forces.


In the long term, the focus for Hamas will be political (indeed, every action they take from this point on will largely be political in reference to the upcoming elections). By not attacking the I.D.F. and P.A. military elements conducting the evacuation of Gaza, Hamas will gain leverage over a very critical public relations battle between themselves and the unpopular old guard establishment of Fatah and the P.A.

While biding its time, Hamas will continue its routine military tactics, techniques, and procedures of stockpiling, smuggling and proliferating weapons and ammunition. In addition, the security vacuum that will develop in the absence of I.D.F. security checkpoints will clearly enhance the opportunity for greater smuggling efforts.

While on the local level there could be sporadic clashes between Hamas "lunatic fringe" members and I.D.F. and P.A. security personnel, the overall core of Hamas will continue to restrain itself. Without a doubt, one facet of Hamas' abundant strength is found in the disenchanted majority of a younger generation of Palestinians who have spent their entire lives in refugee camps -- and therefore know, or more importantly feel, little of Arafat's vision, much less his root causes for a greater Palestinian state.

Overall, Hamas will continue its fight for the hearts and minds of the Palestinian people. In addition, the rhetoric of Abbas will mean little compared to the historically visible efforts on the ground that have continually legitimatized the vision of Hamas in contrast to the continued demonstrated helplessness and incapacity of the Palestine Liberation Organization and its political underlings.

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