From the river to the sea, what will the future of HAMAS be?
The Palestine-Israeli conflict has long drawn the attention of the world. The conflict is rooted in banal partition plan of the state of Palestine dividing it into two distant parts and creating Israel in between. The recent fighting between Hamas and Israel started in the holy month of Ramazan as a result of Israeli encroachment in Sheikh Jarrah locality in West Bank. It is important here to understand that Gaza and West Bank are separated by Israel. Also, Gaza and West Bank are ruled by two different political units. Gaza is ruled by the Ḥarakat al-Muqāwamah al-Islāmiyyah better known as ‘HAMAS’ while West bank is ruled by the Fatah-run Palestinian Authority which controls around 40% of the area, the rest being ruled by Israel. The distance between both the Arab-ruled territories is roughly around 100 kilometers, even lesser in some areas.
HAMAS- Past, Present, and beyond
In the last 20 years, it has rarely occurred that Israel and West Bank have come into a high intensity confrontation. On the contrary, things have always turned ugly between Israel and Hamas. This is mainly because Hamas has a paramilitary wing named Izz ad-Din Al Qassem brigade and has retaliated against Israel’s operations in Palestinian territory. It can also be said that Hamas formed its paramilitary wing to push its political objectives more assertively .i.e. the establishment of an independent Palestine state Moreover, Hamas is recognized as a terrorist organization by Israel and its allies. There are also accusations by Israel that Hamas uses human shields and civilian infrastructure to store its ammunition.
The origins of Hamas can be traced back to an organization Mujama al Islamiya which was founded by Shiekh Ahmed Yasin in 1967. This organization was patronized by Israel which then controlled Gaza and covertly supported and funded it. It was deemed as a charitable organization working to improve the standard of living in Gaza. It later transformed into Hamas before the first Intifada and was launched in 1987. The charter of Hamas then mentioned ‘dissolution of Israel’ which was against Yasser Arafat’s PLO’s secular outlook. Thus Israel pitched Hamas and PLO against each other while it continued encroaching and forming enclaves in the Palestinian territory.
Sheikh Ahmed Yasin was killed in an Israeli airstrike in 2004 and Yasser Arafat also died the same year. Mahmoud Abbas took over as the new chief but Hamas won the highest number of seats to the Palestine National authority in 2006. Hamas and Fatah agreed to form a unity government but the coalition did not last long due to disagreements on Israel. The United States also refused to recognize Hamas as the leader of PNA. Thus it was contained to Gaza and since then has threatened Israel with consequences whenever things have escalated in West Bank and Jerusalem.
An option that Israel can explore is to launch a ground based operation supported by its Air force and eliminate Hamas. This was tested in 2014 when Israel’s defense forces launched ‘Operation protective edge’ which was aimed at destroying Hamas’s capabilities and its terror infrastructure. However IDF suffered 66 casualties as Hamas though technologically backward was better adjusted with Gazan terrain. During the course of time Hamas has better positioned itself militarily and politically. Although still no match to IDF, it has improved its rocket arsenal and was successful in bypassing Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.
In the recent years Hamas has gained large popularity in West Bank. This sentiment has a strong undercurrent in the wake of Israeli oppression in the West Bank and Gaza and continued retaliation by Hamas. Many Muslims in Palestine are of the opinion that Fatah leaders are corrupt and western puppets. Fatah also has not nurtured the second rung of leaders thus creating a power vacuum, giving advantage to Hamas. Adding to people’s resentment was the postponement of planned legislative elections earlier this year. Critics of President Mahmoud Abbas say that if elections were to happen today, Hamas would form the government in both the regions and would become the sole authority to speak for Palestine. If this were to happen, would Israel accept and come on talking terms to negotiate a peace plan?
If there is anyone who has become the biggest gainer out of this conflict, it is undoubtedly Hamas. It has manifested itself as the voice of the Palestinian people and has projected itself as the guardian of Islam’s third holiest site to Muslims beyond Palestine’s borders. But as long as it remains designated as a terrorist organization, it cannot enjoy the support of Arab nations or enter in a dialogue with Israel’s allies. The future of Hamas now depends on how it accommodates Israel in its charter and the allies it gains in the Middle East and west Asia.