This is the English version of the Hebrew article I posted yesterday. To read the Hebrew article please click here
August 28, 2014
Operation Protective Edge: Exiting to a new Space
by Avi Melamed
In my article Operation Protective Edge – Light at the End of Tunnel that I published on July 22, 2014 during the very early stages of Operation Protective Edge, I made the following observations (click here to read the article which expands on the below points),
- This round offers both Israelis and Palestinians a chance for strategic positive shift
- Hamas’ strategy has reached a dead end
- Hamas’ modus operandi is substantially challenged
- Hamas will announce victory no matter what the reality is and the outcomes are
- Both parties will exit into a new space – different than the one before this round
After 50 days of fighting, on August 27th a truce was reached. Current estimation is that it will hold.
At this point I believe that the developments and the course of events are playing out according to my predictions.
As expected, Hamas rushed to announce victory. The reality is obviously totally different.
Cracking under Israeli military pressure, Hamas was forced to sign a cease fire deal in which none of the terms and conditions they demanded throughout the war were included. In fact, Hamas signed the very same deal that was offered to them by Egypt in the early days of the fighting – a deal that Hamas had consistently refused to sign, describing it as a “non starter” and as a “dead deal.”
It is important to understand that the substantial blow Hamas sustained in this round exceeds the military aspect – it has wider dimensions and ramifications:
Operation Protective Edge marks a milestone – Hamas’ ideology and political strategy has hit a dead end. Why?
Hamas’ political claim to be recognized as the only representative of the Palestinian people is based upon an ideological argument. Hamas formally describes itself as the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. As such, and in full compliance with the Muslim Brotherhood ideology, Hamas’ vision includes two major components:
One. Hamas envisions the future of all Palestinians within a regional Muslim entity (a Caliphate) which is subject to, and conducted by, the implementation of Islamic Religious codex – the Shari’ah.
Two. Hamas – like the Muslim Brotherhood – argues that fighting Israel until it is wiped off the face of the earth is a religious and historical imperative. Hamas argues that their way is the one and only right way.
As often characterizes radical movements, Hamas initiated the recent military round out of its own inner logic and interest, ignoring – knowingly or unknowingly – both regional and global trends, changes and developments. And as a result, Hamas made some bad miscalculations:
First, as chaos and violence rock the region, Arab states desperately need and seek, stability. Hamas set a local fire, hoping (in vain) that it would spread and expand. By that, Hamas created growing resentment and anger among the Arab states which resulted in the deepening of Hamas’ isolation.
Second, while the world is shocked by the horror and atrocities perpetrated by ISIS masked militants in the name of a distorted, murderous Islam, Hamas masked militants – in broad daylight – execute people in the Gaza Strip accused of being collaborators with Israel. By that, Hamas associated itself with ISIS.
Third, even the harshest critics of Israel in the West cannot ignore the brutal rocket attacks on Israeli woman and children. Hamas intensified its attacks, savagely and indiscriminately firing thousands of rockets and mortars on Israeli cities and ignoring the international demand to stop the shooting. By that, Hamas eroded the support they had gained within some circles in Europe.
Fourth, while claiming it is acting to defend the people of the Gaza Strip, Arab – as well international public opinion – could not ignore the fact that Hamas leaders, safely sheltered in their underground tunnels or in fancy hotels, continued to perpetuate the violence totally oblivious and indifferent to the growing suffering of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. That behavior fueled anger and resentment towards Hamas in the Arab world generally – and among the Palestinians specifically.
These miscalculations deepen Hamas’ crisis. Yet Hamas’ troubles have just begun. One must keep in mind that hundreds of thousands of Gazans have no homes to go back to, the physical infrastructure is badly damaged, and winter is around the corner. False victory rhetoric cannot provide the people of Gaza with housing solutions. Nor can it hush the growing criticism and anger towards Hamas in the Arab public opinion in general and the Palestinians in particular. Winter is awaiting Hamas as well…
In June 2007 Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in a violent coup. During this coup they killed their own brothers, the people of the Palestinian Authority.
Once they took over they established a kingdom in the Gaza Strip for themselves. For more on that issue read for example my article Hamas’ Kingdom of Crime (January 2012).
A historical perspective of the seven years of Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip presents the scale of Hamas’ failure:
Thousands of Palestinians have been killed
The physical infrastructure has been ruined due to Hamas perpetrating round after violent round which has resulted in nothing more than more death and misery
Gaza sank into a gloomy reality of growing rates of unemployment, deepening social and economic isolation, deepening frustration and a hopeless future.
In the regional arena the picture is no better: Allying themselves with the Assad-Iran Axis, and later on with Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, ended up badly for Hamas. These moves left Hamas is desperate need for money and support. Therefore, Hamas became totally dependent on the good will of the Iranian regime, the Turks, and Qatar – who will get rid of Hamas in a heartbeat once they cease to be a useful tool in their service
Hamas’ seven years of ruling in the Gaza Strip is nothing less than a massive failure which has resulted in nothing else except more misery and more suffering for the people of the Gaza Strip.
No false victory rhetoric can cover up, or compensate for those facts – and the Arab world at large and the Palestinians in particular, know that.
Here are Hamas’ “achievements” following Operation Protective Edge:
When the Rafah Terminal – the same one that was burnt down to the ground by Hamas in 2007- is reopened, it will be monitored by the Palestinian Authority – the same one kicked out by Hamas seven years ago
If, and when, salaries to Hamas’ employees will be paid – the same employees the Hamas government could not pay because before this round because the regime was broke (for on that matter read my article Mukawama, Money, Missiles published on July 15, 2014) – the checks will be signed by the Palestinian President, the same one described by Hamas as “illegitimate” if not a “traitor.” The same President whose people were butchered by Hamas seven years ago.
When building materials will once again be provided to the Gaza Strip for the reconstruction of the devastation caused by Hamas, the materials will be strictly monitored – and not by Hamas.
International, as well as regional factors, realize that Hamas should not be given the space to continue to generate instability. Yet, it is clear that the people of Gaza should have hope and a future. It is likely then, that an initiative generated by the factors who seek stability will aim to create new ground rules in the Gaza Strip which will aim to provide the Palestinians in Gaza with hope on the one hand, perhaps for example a harbor – or even an airport, but under conditions and terms that will restrict and limit Hamas’ ability to resume their violence.
No wonder then, that Hamas rushed to announce “victory.” Due to its enormous failures, it is the only thing Hamas could do. In that context, Hamas has a good mentor: Following the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah rushed to announce a “divine triumph.” Ever since then Nasrallah lives in a bunker, and ever since then Hezbollah has not shot one bullet at Israel.
One can sum up Hamas’ failure as follows:
Hamas initiated this round as the sole decision maker in the Gaza Strip. Hamas alone held the matches, and was motivated by the wrong calculation. Hamas leaders believed that they could dictate the agenda. They miscalculated. Hamas exits this round no longer the only decision maker in the Gaza Strip. There are additional players like Egypt, the Palestinian Authority, Saudi Arabia and the international community. Hamas has lost its exclusive control over the Gaza Strip, and thus Hamas’ ability to dictate the agenda is now significantly narrowed.
There are some in Israel who argue that “Israel should eliminate Hamas.” That outlook does not dialogue with reality. Hamas is here to stay. Israel should make sure however, that Hamas will not be able to dictate Israel’s agenda.
This is not only in Israel’s interest. The Palestinians themselves should make sure that Hamas does not dictate its agenda on their backs. In the evolving discussion within Palestinian society regarding the path and destination of the Palestinians as a nation, Hamas never considered itself as a partner in the discussion; Hamas considers itself the one that will dictate – one way or another – the course and outcome of that discussion. But that is not the reality anymore. The circumstances, course and outcomes of Operation Protective Edge, as well as the rapid dramatic changes in the region, force Hamas to participate in that discussion as a partner with responsibilities – not as a dictator. As a result, Hamas enters a long process where it has to revise its way, policy, strategy, direction and goals. And this process will be encompassed with turbulence inside Hamas. It is already happening.
The circumstances, course and outcomes of Operation Protective Edge, offer Israelis and Palestinians an exit into to a new space, with a potential for a positive change. Both sides must rise up to the opportunity. The road ahead is long and tough. Yet, the space is open.