We won. That’s the joyful message conveyed by Islamic Jihad Tuesday following the ceasefire announcement. But the group added a warning: Should Israel attack, we will fire missiles even deeper than Tel Aviv. Gaza residents also believe that Islamic Jihad won the latest round of fighting, and the scathing criticism of Hamas for failing to join in is growing.
In the latest round of escalation, Jihad managed to push Hamas into a corner. In recent months, Islamic Jihad gained much strength — not only militarily, but also publicly. Iran provides it with money and arms, and the difficult situation in Gaza, with electricity and water-supply problems, are prompting criticism of the Hamas government. Hence, Jihad has become a major force threatening Hamas’ hegemony, at least in matters pertaining to the struggle and resistance against Israel. “We have no other option; certainly no diplomatic option,” explained one merchant in a phone call from Gaza. “That’s why we support Islamic Jihad.”
Hamas is confused. Sitting on the fence in recent days while holding its fire wasn’t good for the organization. Some group leaders attempted to voice their support for the fighting, yet Saturday [March 17, 2012] they coordinated via Egypt to secure a ceasefire. Hamas had no power to put an end to Jihad’s fire, and truce talks with Egypt were managed far from the public eye.
Ismail Haniyeh, in a grey suit and striped blue shirt, sat on Tuesday afternoon between two large Palestinian flags to make his announcement. “The aggression has ceased. We have put an end to the policy of targeted killings,” he said, with a touch of discomfort. Simultaneously, one of the Hamas higher-ups hinted that Hamas’ military forces indirectly assisted the fighting. But the Gazans were not convinced.
Hamas, unlike Islamic Jihad or the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), is a group that wishes to hold power. Hence, its leaders in Gaza and abroad decided to promote a truce at this time. Meanwhile, Jihad and the PRC offer a very simple ideology: war, war and more war against Israel until it is annihilated. Hamas wants Islamic rule and to take over the Palestinian Authority. It also wants Arab and international legitimacy, so it tries to conduct itself responsibly. And so, Hamas has become a mediator between Israel and Islamic Jihad, prompting Gaza residents to scoff. “They present themselves as a neutral force in the battlefield. This is not the Hamas we know,” they say.
Support for Hamas on Gaza’s streets has declined. For Gazans, Islamic Jihad has become the preferred alternative and in recent days the group gave them some hope and encouragement. The result is that Gaza is becoming more radical.
When will the next round of fighting erupt? That’s only a matter of time. The ceasefire, just like all the temporary truces of recent years that didn’t last, is merely a time-out between rounds of violence. Even after the latest round, it’s clear that Israel won’t be able to show restraint in the face of new terror plots in Gaza. Islamic Jihad and the PRC won’t be able to contain themselves for long either. They will use the time-out to restore their missile arsenal and prepare for the next round.