Popular resistance vs. Israeli independence

Category : Uncategorized

As Israel prepares to mark its 70th year of independence, Hamas, driven by its growing distress and its struggle with the Palestinian Authority (PA), is launching a new effort to create a narrative, which is designed to rob Israel of its ability to celebrate.

Get The Times of Israel’s Daily Edition by email
and never miss our top stories

The background to Hamas’s latest escalation of the situation in Gaza lies in its internal Palestinian conflict with the PA and its President, Mahmoud Abbas.

Hamas and the PA are locked in a major struggle over who will be the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people after the departure of Abbas – who is likely approaching the end of his term as leader.

Hamas is trying to position itself so that it can make a bid to become the central Palestinian representative. Hamas’s main objective is that the next leader of the Palestinians will be someone from its own ranks.

Ultimately, these events represent a bigger transformation that Hamas is undergoing. When it was first established, Hamas was essentially a social welfare movement, based on the Muslim Brotherhood model.

Then, it turned into an armed terrorist organization in the early 1990s, and began attacks on Israeli civilians and security personnel. In 2007, Hamas entered its third stage, of becoming a ruler over the Gaza Strip, and seeking recognition as a legitimate political representative, both inside the Palestinian arena, and in the wider world. It continued its terrorist activities, parallel to its political aspirations.

Hamas is taking its time to progress through these stages. It is a thinking organization, and it does not act from the gut. The chief of Hamas’s Political Bureau, Yihye Sinwar and senior leader Ismail Haniyeh strike militant poses in public appearances, but also know how to act pragmatically when they feels it necessary to achieve the organization’s goals.

And now, Hamas is preparing to make its bid to become the main, legitimate representative of the Palestinians. Hamas is capable of responding to events as they occur flexibly, so long as it ends up moving towards its planned strategic goals. Hamas’s ability to plan strategically is evident in the way it conducted three armed conflicts against Israel, and then used them to support its narrative that it was able to stand up to the Middle East’s most powerful military. Victory is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.


The recent clashes on the Gaza border, organized by Hamas as part of the ‘March of the Return’ initiative, are merely a component in Hamas’s bigger effort to become the main Palestinian ruling entity. The incidents on the Gaza border should not be confused with the ‘main event.’

Hamas is using the march, and the ‘popular resistance’ model, as well as the violence these generate, to try and mobilize the worldwide 7.5-million strong Palestinian nation, stretched out across Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and worldwide.

The PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, who recently marked his 83rd birthday, is well aware of Hamas’s vision, and is determined to do everything in his power to stop it. Hamas has left a major stain on Abbas’s legacy, a fact that disturbs him greatly as he looks back over his years in power. Under his watch, the Palestinians splintered into two rival entities, following Hamas’s armed coup in Gaza in June 2007.

Yet Hamas has found that ruling its own enclave is no picnic. Its regional isolation and economic distress is growing more acute by the day. And the situation could get significantly worse if Abbas ramps up PA sanctions on Gaza, which he is likely to do.

Ramallah has now made it clear that in order for it to agree to a reconciliation arrangement with Gaza’s rulers, Hamas will have to accept an all or nothing approach. Either the PA will be allowed back into Gaza without preconditions, or any idea of reconciliation will remain fantasy. As the PA’s economic threat to Gaza worsens, Hamas knows that if Gaza collapses economically, it will open fire on Israel and initiate a new war.

An economic-infrastructure collapse will place Hamas in the same strategic distress that it experienced in 2014, when it launched an armed conflict with Israel.

In light of this situation, Hamas has initiated a new strategy to help it break out of its distress. It is not interested in entering into an armed conflict with Israel for the time being, and it seeks to remain in touch with Egypt, while also receiving legitimacy from the Palestinian street – something Abbas has been struggling to obtain. So Hamas thought outside of the box, and landed on a new idea: The ‘March of the Return.’

Dressed up as a popular struggle, this march calls for recognition of the so-called Palestinian right of return – something no Arab actor can openly call illegitimate, including Hamas’s bitter rival, Abbas. Hamas has forced the entire Palestinian media world, and Abbas himself, to express support for the march.

Meanwhile, Hamas’s message to Israel is that it cannot celebrate its 70th year of independence in peace. Hamas is challenging Israel’s legitimacy, by reminding everyone that the Palestinian refugees have yet to return, and by reminding Israel that it is still at war. This matches Hamas’s genuine current ideology, which calls for Israel’s destruction.

Today, Hamas is in charge of Gaza, which is in many ways a state. But Hamas does not want a state, because this interferes with its goal of trying to have the ‘full cake,’ meaning the power to represent all Palestinians, including those in the West Bank.

So it has turned to the ‘popular struggle,’ as a creative way to try and get itself out of the corner it is in. The events on the Gaza border have a chance of igniting unrest in the West Bank, which would serve Hamas’s interests perfectly, by spreading its influence, and undermining the power of the PA. This way, Hamas can harm both Israel and the PA in one shot.

Hamas’s cynical interest in damaging Israel in the court of international opinion means that it is interested in a high Palestinian casualty count during clashes along the Gaza – Israel border. Ideally, from Hamas’s perspective, the more women, children, and elderly killed on the Gazan side, the better for its campaign over public perception.

But the people of Gaza can see through this plan, and most have so far refused to go anywhere near the border fence, let alone take part in the march. As a result of Hamas’s problems in bringing civilians to the fence, it has had to send its own operatives instead.

Hamas will keep trying to mobilize the general Gazan population to the fence. If it succeeds in this goal in the coming weeks, it will also succeed in gaining what it so dearly wants: Legitimacy on the Palestinian street, and in the wider world, as the torch bearer for the right of return.

In the coming weeks, further surprises on the Gaza border are likely. Hamas appears to have planned waves of incidents in the lead up to May, when Palestinians mark Nakba day (mourning Israel’s establishment), and when the US is expected to move its embassy to Jerusalem. The events Hamas has planned are designed to spark uprisings and rioting in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, and ultimately, to enable Hamas to rise to power in the West Bank in place of the Fatah-run PA.

Abbas and Fatah, for their part, could launch their own initiative to try and steal the limelight from Hamas.

Hamas’s new trajectory is clear. It is seeking to orchestrate a ‘popular’ uprising to avoid having to enter into a military armed clash with Israel for now. But if Hamas’s efforts fail, an armed conflict will become likely.
The near future looks set to be explosive and unpredictable.

Edited By Yaakov Lappin

Co-Edited by Benjamin Anthony

Notice: The views expressed above do not represent the views of the IDF, the Foreign Ministry or the organization Our Soldiers Speak. They are reflective solely of the views of the author.

Is Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Inevitable?

Category : Uncategorized

The Gaza Strip is facing a humanitarian crisis in the next three years, driven by a collapse of its energy, water, and sewage systems. This crisis could, if not stopped, lead to a deterioration of the security situation in the region.

The UN is forecasting a crisis for Gaza by 2020 for several reasons. By that year, Gaza’s aquifers (underground natural water supplies) will be depleted and 2.1 million Gazans will be left without adequate running water.

Historically, Gaza’s aquifers were filled with abundant amounts of water. Gazans could dig half a meter to reach water reserves. But as time passed under Israeli, Palestinian Authority (PA), and now Hamas rule, there were few restrictions placed on the number of wells dug in Gaza. Natural rainfall has failed to replace the water being sucked out of the aquifers by all the new wells. Once the aquifers collapse, it will take between 70 to 100 years to recover.

While it is possible to construct a desalination plant for Gaza to replace the water from the aquifers, this requires abundant electricity, which Gaza currently lacks. Even if a plant could be built and supplied with electricity, there is no guarantee that any new electricity that Hamas receives will not be used to build more weapons to terrorize and attack Israel.

In the meantime, as Gaza’s population and water usage grows, so does the sewage output, which is penetrating the aquifers and polluting them. An overflow of Gazan sewage also threatens the Israeli coastline, since the Mediterranean Sea flows northward in a cyclical movement. There have been several projects aimed at constructing new sewage treatment plants, including one initiative by the World Bank, which led to the construction of a 100-million dollar facility in northern Gaza. Today, the plant sits idle, since there is insufficient electricity to power it.

The electricity supply problem has been exacerbated by the political struggle between Hamas and the PA. PA President Abbas has decreased the supply of electricity to Gaza by 15% to force Hamas to accept a return of PA rule to the Strip. Where people once received eight to ten hours of electricity per day, they now get just two to three hours.

Abbas’s message is clear — he is fed up footing the bill for Hamas and gaining nothing in return.

He is demanding that the PA be allowed to return to Gaza. This could be accomplished if Hamas enters a unity government with the PA to create a single authority. Under such an arrangement, Hamas’s armed wing would swear allegiance to Abbas and Abbas would agree to pay salaries to Hamas’s 40,000-strong public sector work force in Gaza. In this way, Abbas hopes to take advantage of Hamas economic weakness resulting from the collapse of its tax revenues.

In the past, under Presidents Mubarak and Morsi, Egypt turned a blind eye to the network of tunnels that connected Gaza to the Sinai Peninsula. This formed the basis for a tunnel economy which imported an estimated 300 million dollars a year in smuggled goods. Hamas taxed these imports, and depended on them for significant revenue. These tunnels gave Hamas the confidence to break away from Abbas and the PA. Now, however, under President Sisi, the tunnels and the tunnel economy have mostly been destroyed. Hamas is strapped for cash, staring financial collapse in the face.

Today, Hamas is almost fully reliant on taxes from goods that enter the Strip via the Kerem Shalom Crossing with Israel — a border crossing enabled by PA cooperation with Israel. Without PA cooperation, Hamas would lose this revenue source as well. The PA knows this, and is turning the screws even tighter. It knows that it cannot return to Gaza by riding on Israeli tanks — a situation that would tarnish Abbas’s legacy. But it can return through an agreement with Hamas to rejoin the Palestinian national government.

Israel, for its part, has no interest in dealing with Gaza, and is even considering steps like creating a sea port for the hostile enclave, to provide it with independence. But any such step, no matter how well-intentioned, will be perceived by Hamas as a reward and encouragement for terrorism — for the rockets, tunnels, and frequent violence that Hamas has leveled against Israel. This is the catch 22 that handicaps all steps that might alleviate the humanitarian time bomb in Gaza.

Nearly every material used in Gaza’s reconstruction can be used to build weapons as well. If Israel were to increase the power supply to Gaza, Hamas could be expected to use that same electricity to activate its military industry. The situation reaches levels of absurdity that are difficult to fathom. Hamas produces rockets using Israeli electricity, rockets that could be fired at Ashkelon’s power plant, which is supplying the Gazan power plant.

It would take at least four years to build a desalination plant, and it would take three to four years to construct natural gas pipelines that could supply Gaza’s power plant. Building a second power plant would also take three to four years. That’s too long to solve the problems. As a result, a humanitarian crisis in Gaza is at our doorstep.

Edited By Yaakov Lappin

Co-Edited by Garrett Fienberg

Notice: The views expressed above do not represent the views of the IDF, the Foreign Ministry or the organization Our Soldiers Speak. They are reflective solely of the views of the author.