Successive Israeli attacks on Gaza over the last years have splintered Gaza’s militant groups — strengthening some, such as certain elements in the Popular Resistance Committees and Islamic Jihad, that are far more radical than Hamas. In 2007, again in 2009, and then just last May, the Hizb ut-Tahrir movement, which calls for the establishment of a caliphate to “liberate the Holy Land,” held rallies in Hebron and Ramallah that attracted a small but dedicated band of followers.
“In the American media, it’s ‘Hamas, Hamas, Hamas,’” Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the Jerusalem Fund, said. “It’s a great talking point, but this shouldn’t be about talking points. Israel’s actions are radicalizing Palestinian society. Maybe that’s what they want, but I can’t imagine that’s what we want.”
While Israeli officials might lump Hamas in with ISIS, the group itself has been increasingly worried about the emergence of more radical Islamist movements. This could be clearly seen in the immediate aftermath of the June 12 kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teens, which took Hamas’s leadership by surprise. “They were caught flat-footed,” the senior Fatah official with whom I spoke confirmed. “They didn’t order the kidnapping or the murder and were surprised it happened. We ourselves thought it wasn’t aimed at Israel, but at breaking up the unity agreement.”
[Osama] Hamdan, the head of Hamas’s foreign relations bureau, refused to comment on this speculation, but denied that Hamas was behind the incident. “To this moment we don’t know” who the perpetrators are, he told me in the immediate aftermath of the kidnapping. He provided the same answer when I gave him the names of the prime suspects, members of the Qawasmeh family of Hebron. “We don’t know,” he repeated.
With Operation Protective Edge entering its eighth day, the United States is now scrambling to again find a way out of the conflict. But unlike previous confrontations, getting both sides to agree on a cease-fire will be much more difficult. “Abbas is weakened; Israel has a government that needs to show how tough it is; and Hamas is looking at its competitors in Gaza,” said Nathan J. Brown, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University. “There aren’t too many exit points. The current crisis could go on for quite some time and be very bloody.”
So far, Israel’s eight-year attempt to batter Hamas into submission has not only met with failure, but its successive military onslaughts might just have succeeded in creating an increasingly radicalized Palestinian population and alienating Israel’s most powerful ally.
Image Credits: Press TV via Twitter.