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Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Did Hamas miscalculate?

In the first days after Hamas blew up the wall with Egypt it appeared that it was a great political victory. There was wall to wall coverage of Gazans buying everything from food and fuel to motorcycles and big-screen TVs, Hamas seemed to be negotiating with Egypt directly as a legitimate nation, and Fatah looked weaker than ever.

But something unexpected has been happening. This apparent Hamas victory is looking like anything but.

MEMRI publishes a series of articles critical of Hamas in the influential London-based al-Sharq al-Awsat:
The situation of the Palestinians in Gaza, and the barbaric oppression from which they suffer, are saddening. But it is equally saddening that they live under a leadership that does not understand that the role of a leadership is to protect the people and guarantee their security and livelihood... Today there is no choice but to tell the truth... instead of continuing to [exploit] the Palestinian cause..."
"What is the point of these [rocket attacks]... that increase the suffering of 1.5 million Palestinians, but do not cause Israel any military harm or induce it to make political concessions? Hamas' rocket [attacks] amount to a suicide operation that sacrifices the security of all the residents of Gaza. What is the point of all this spilt Palestinian blood and all this suffering? All those rockets [fired by] Hamas did no more than injure 10 Israelis. Where is the war that Hamas is talking about?...

"Hamas' stupidly [only] caused harm: it gave Israel the opportunity of [forcibly] retaliating against the launching of a few rockets that are nothing but pieces of scrap metal.

"Previously, [Hamas] committed another grave crime against the Palestinian people, by carrying out a coup against the Palestinian Authority.

"The people of Gaza have suffered greatly as a result of Hamas' behavior..."
Not only that, but a recent poll taken of Palestinian Arabs finds that 59% of PalArabs disagree with Hamas' shooting rockets into Israel and 61% say Hamas should recognize Israel, both higher numbers than in the past. 70% prefer the PA strategy to Hamas'.

And it looks like a possibility that Hamas will allow Fatah to man the border crossings as per the original agreement with the EU and Israel - and the EU might even return as observers (though Hamas is rejecting that idea right now.) This is far from what Hamas had stated its intentions were vis a vis the Rafah crossings.

It is entirely possible that the relative lack of rockets the past few days is not a decision made as a direct result of Israel's more aggressive stance but rather Hamas being under pressure from its own people to act as if it cares about the lives of fellow Palestinian Arabs.

In general, Islamists make their greatest political gains in the wake of chaos that they sow. This seems to be a counterexample. It remains to be seen how this will all play out, but Hamas does not seem to have won what should have been an easy PR victory.

UPDATE: The ever-amazing Soccer Dad in the comments section here points out a Barry Rubin article that also says that Hamas' supposed PR victory is an illusion.