Hamas and Israel agreed Wednesday to extend a truce for another five days
Palestinian negotiators demands' include a lifting of Israel and Egypt's blockade on Gaza
But Mohammed Najib says Hamas' objectives also include ending its political isolation
He says the group has used the conflict to reposition itself as the face of Palestinians
Editor’s Note: Mohammed Najib is a Palestinian war correspondent and defense analyst based in Ramallah. He joined Jane’s Information Group in 2001 and writes for several of its publications. The views contained in this commentary are solely those of the author.
It was with some difficulty that Hamas agreed to extend the ceasefire with Israel for another five days Wednesday.
The movement sees a second truce extension as a sign of weakness after 35 days of fighting with Israel.
Hamas has used this war to achieve some tactical and strategic objectives and considers itself the winner in the conflict. As such, it believes it can dictate terms.
Hamas has seen this war as an opportunity not only to end the blockade of Gaza, but also to end its political isolation and allow itself to present itself as the face of Palestinians – on and off the battlefield.
Hamas’ public image has suffered since it came to rule in Gaza in 2007. It chose to keep its focus on resistance, rather than governance, leaving that instead to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Seven years on, the blockade by Israel and Egypt had left the group in dire financial straits. Reuters reports Hamas has struggled to pay some 40,000 civil servants and security personnel. The United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs said last month “former de facto government employees, including the security forces, have not been paid salaries regularly since August 2013 and no salaries at all since April 2014.”
Hamas had hoped that an April agreement to form a “consensus government” with Fatah – which runs the government in the West Bank – would resolve the issue. When it did not, Hamas tried to achieve its goals through the conflict with Israel.
The already miserable situation in Gaza meant that its fighters had nothing to lose and mass Palestinian casualties, as well damage to property and infrastructure, hardened their resolve. A battle that was launched for humble goals has ended with increased Arab and Palestinian sympathy – and an expansion of Hamas’ objectives.
Indeed, some Palestinians believe that Hamas’ aims are more factional than national. Some members of Fatah have told me that Hamas prevented their military wing – the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades – fighting during the conflict with Israel, placing around 60 members under house arrest.
Hamas also hoped that its war with Israel would indirectly increase public support for its ally in Egypt, the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
However, Hamas is unlikely to quell Egyptian anger at the Brotherhood – the movement of ousted President Mohamed Morsy. Cairo may have received a high-level delegation from Hamas for peace talks, but it remains hostile to the movement.
Hamas’ insistence in the peace negotiations on having an independent seaport and airport is aimed at avoiding pressure from Egypt, ruled as it now is by a regime that regards Hamas as an enemy. Hamas has also been at loggerheads with countries such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan, which – like Egypt – are looking unfavorably at political Islam.
Meanwhile, the group’s decision to back Syrian rebels against Bashar al-Assad’s regime saw it fighting Israel without the support of Tehran, Hezbollah and Damascus for the first time. The conflict has severely depleted Hamas’ arsenal, and it will now be compelled to return to Iran’s orbit to rebuild.
After two cease-fires and 10 days of negotiations in Cairo Hamas still does not seem to have achieved its objectives. There has been no breakthrough with Israel regarding the re-opening of the border crossings, or ending the blockade.
And whatever the agreement with Israel, the Palestinian Authority will be tasked to control Rafah and other Gaza ground crossings with Israel. Any money for the reconstruction of Gaza will also be channeled through the PA, with the conflict thus ensuring the authority takes partial control of Gaza.
Despite this erosion of power, Hamas has used the conflict to reestablish itself as an important player in the Middle East, after two years that saw the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies pushed to the margins.